Editorial |

Israel Must Adopt the UN Plan on Refugees

Haaretz Editorial
Sudanese asylum seekers in the Negev in 2007.
Sudanese asylum seekers in the Negev in 2007.Credit: Alex Levac
Haaretz Editorial

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees’ representative in Israel, Damtew Dessalegne, participated in a conference organized by the UN agency last week in the run-up to World Refugee Day. At the conference, which took place at Tel Aviv’s Bialik Rogozin school, Israel’s policy on asylum seekers came in for criticism.

Dessalegne did not differentiate between the Netanyahu government and the government of change, which announced on Monday that it was moving to disband itself. As far as Dessalegne is concerned, Israel has been in the wrong legally and morally for years by refraining from giving asylum seekers the rights to which they are entitled and calling them “‘illegal migrants’ – or worse, as ‘infiltrators’” (Bar Peleg, June 19).

And indeed, ever since the Netanyahu government’s failed attempt four years ago to devise a plan for absorbing asylum seekers, successive Israeli governments seem to have given up on any possibility of drafting a policy.

The Interior Ministry told Haaretz that the plan proposed back then is no longer on the table, which means that effectively, Israel has no plan on this issue. Even a plan to provide health insurance for people who lack legal status here is still stuck; what remains of Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz’s promises is mainly a Facebook post.

Meanwhile, some 30,000 asylum seekers from various countries are waiting for decisions on the asylum applications they submitted. In addition, there are thousands of others who haven’t even filed applications, including some 14,000 Ukrainians fleeing the war in their country.

The embarrassing recollection of Benjamin Netanyahu’s rapid retreat from his plan is evidently etched deep in politicians’ memories. One day after unveiling that plan, which was reached with the UN refugee agency and involved absorbing 16,000 asylum seekers who would be dispersed throughout the country (another 16,000 would be taken in by Western countries), he backtracked from it.

Nobody in the government had the courage to look the xenophobes in the eye and defend the plan – to explain why it was a good solution for both the asylum seekers and residents of south Tel Aviv, where most of them live today.

Since then, it seems as if nobody in Israel’s weak political system has dared to clash with anti-migrant activist Sheffi Paz and her friends and thereby risk a fusillade of denunciations.

On the contrary, the Interior Ministry, now under minister Ayelet Shaked, is seeking to make the provisions of the Law to Prevent Infiltration even more stringent and reenact another law, which was overturned by the High Court of Justice, that required part of asylum seekers’ salaries to be set aside in an escrow account. Shaked also decided to end the collective protection granted to citizens of the Democratic Republic of Congo, in defiance of the refugee agency’s position.

Dessalegne urged Israel to once again consider adopting the UN plan. The transition government that will likely be set up over the next few days could leave a significant stamp if it embraces the plan warmly and eases the lives of thousands of refugees.

The above article is Haaretz's lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.

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