The first Global Refugee Forum opened this week in Geneva. Organizations and countries from around the world sent delegates; Israel sent officials from the Foreign Ministry and the Interior Ministry’s Population and Immigration Authority. It is important for Israel to be represented at the conference, since it too is affected by the refugee crisis. It’s highly doubtful, however, that its representatives will speak openly about Israel’s ineptness in dealing with the global refugee crisis.
According to Population and Immigration Authority data, 29,000 asylum seekers from Eritrea and Sudan live in Israel. Some have been here for over a decade, but their applications for asylum were never approved. They are forced to live here without legal status, devoid of rights and of hope. That, despite the fact that the fence that was installed on Israel’s border with Egypt completely prevents any additional asylum seekers from entering the country.
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The Population and Immigration Authority representative at the conference was presumably not authorized to try to resolve this crisis, since this would counter Israel’s shameful policy in dealing with these refugees, a policy dictated by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Interior Minister Arye Dery and implemented by the Population and Immigration Authority and the man who heads it, Shlomo Mor-Yosef.
In April of last year, Israel and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees signed an agreement according to which 16,000 asylum seekers would leave Israel for Western countries willing to accept them, while Israel absorbed an equal number of refugees in Israel. One day after the it was signed, Israel’s populist government retracted its agreement, in what was a shameful and rankling action. In doing so, Israel in fact decided to continue violating the UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, as well as to ignore demands from within Israel to change the situation, voiced by the state comptroller and the Supreme Court.
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Officials in the UN High Commissioner for Refugees are hoping that participating countries at the Geneva conference will announce plans for dealing in a suitable manner with people who were forced to leave their homes and migrate to other countries. Brazil, for example, announced ahead of this conference that it would recognize 21,000 asylum seekers from Venezuela as refugees.
Israel must decide: Will it persist in its cruel and illogical policy, led by the Population and Immigration Authority, and incarcerate blameless men, women and children, deporting people to countries in which they are at risk, or will it join the list of countries that do not view asylum seekers as enemies, treating them responsibly while expressing solidarity. The first step in the right direction would be for Netanyahu and Dery to return to the outline laid out together with the UN and to implement it.
The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.