Israel has granted refugee status to 0.07% of African asylum seekers

Israel/Palestine
on 17 Comments

Israel has not granted a single Sudanese asylum seeker refugee status, in spite of a wave of migrants fleeing violence, according to official state statistics, submitted to the High Court of Justice on February 16. In all, the government has granted refugee status to only 0.07% of the 5,573 Sudanese and Eritreans who have applied for asylum in the country—a mere four individuals.

Haaretz published the statistics. The following is a summary of the findings:

Sudanese Refugees

  • 3,165 Sudanese refugees submitted asylum requests from July 2009 to 2015.
  • 1% (45) of these applications was answered by Israel. 99% (3120) were ignored.
  • 89% (40) of the 45 requests the government answered were rejected. The remaining 5 were granted temporary residence (not refugee status).
  • 0 of the 3,165 asylum seekers were granted refugee status.
  • 31% (976) of the Sudanese asylum seekers who applied left Israel. 69% (2,184) of the Sudanese refugees who applied remain in Israel.
  • Worldwide, 56% of Sudanese asylum seekers received refugee status or extended protection in the first half of 2014, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

Eritrean Refugees

  • 2,408 Eritrean refugees submitted asylum requests in the same period.
  • 45% (1073) of these applications were answered by Israel. 55% (1,335) were ignored.
  • 93% (997) of the requests the government answered were rejected.
  • 0.16% (4) of the Eritrean asylum seekers were granted refugee status.
  • 3% (72) of the Eritrean asylum seekers who applied left Israel. 97% (2332) of the Eritrean refugees who applied remain in Israel.
  • Worldwide, 84% of Eritrean asylum seekers received refugee status or extended protection in the first half of 2014, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

Overall

  • 17,778 refugees, from a variety of countries, applied for asylum in Israel from mid-2009 to 2015.
  • 69% (12,220) of these applications were answered by Israel. 31% (5,558) were ignored.
  • 99.6% (12,175) of the requests the government answered were either rejected or withdrawn.
  • 0.25% (45) of the total asylum seekers were granted refugee status.

Holot Detention Center

  • 1,940 refugees are being held in the Holot detention center.
  • 76% (1,476) are Sudanese.
  • 24% (464) are Eritrean.
  • 45% (865) have been detained for over 9 months.
  • 62% (1,198) migrated to Israel at least six years ago.
  • 22% (1,258) of the 5,803 Sudanese and Eritrean refugees who left Israel in 2014 were held in Holot or Saharonim prison.

These applications only constitute a fraction of the African refugees in Israel. Government data estimates that, as of 2014, there were approximately 8,800 Sudanese and 34,000 Eritreans refugees in the country. The actual percentage of documented refugees is thus many times lower.

Haaretz reported that almost 1/4 (22%) of the positions budgeted for Israel’s Population, Immigration and Border Authority’s Refugee Status Determination Unit are not currently staffed. Israel says it is in the process of filling this spots. Amnon Ben Ami, director of the Population, Immigration and Border Authority, claimed the 3,519 Sudanese and Eritrean asylum seekers whose applications have been ignored will get a response within the next year.

The attorney representing Israel, Yochi Gnessin, said one of the reasons the country sends refugees to the Holot detention center is to encourage their “voluntary exit.” Gnessin has come under fire in the past for, in the words of Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch, claiming “that all of the IDF conversions [to Judaism] are invalid” when she represented the state in the High Court of Justice in 2010.

Anti-Black Racism in Israel

The majority of the Sudanese and Eritrean refugees in Israel are there because they have fled violence. Yet they find themselves in a deeply racist society—one not just violently racist against Palestinians, but against Africans as well. As I detailed in a Mondoweiss article about the relationship between Zionism and anti-black racism:

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin has gone on record calling his country, in the words of the Jerusalem Post, “a sick society that needs treatment.” Haaretz, the “Israeli New York Times,” has also shown that racism is getting even worse among younger generations, that Israeli teenagers are “Racist and proud of it.”

This racism manifests itself politically in the form of apartheid. In 2007, David A. Kirshbaum, of the Israel Law Resource Center, published a piece titled “Israeli Apartheid — A Basic Legal Perspective,” meticulously detailing the myriad ways in which Israel is an apartheid state, under its very own laws. Once again, Israel’s most-read newspaper has published pieces confirming this fact, admitting that “Israeli Arabs have never been equal before the law.”

And yet, as the aforementioned incident evinces, this racism is not only directed at Palestinians. David Sheen has been “carefully chronicling the racist attacks against non-Jewish African asylum-seekers in Israel for several years,” documenting “social media stories about the recent violence, footage from four years of anti-African rallies, and extended one-on-one interviews about opposition to the presence of Africans in Israel.” He writes:

In January 2012, an organization in Israel that aids African asylum-seekers, the African Refugee Development Center, asked me to author on their behalf a report to the United Nations Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD). After receiving the report in text and video form, the UN committee urged the Israeli government to prevent racist attacks against Africans in Israel. The Israeli government ignored the UN’s call, and the following month, Israelis firebombed a kindergarten for African children in Tel Aviv, igniting a wave of violence against non-Jewish African people in Israel that is still ongoing.

Blumenthal and Sheen released a brief documentary titled “Israel’s New Racism: The Persecution of African Migrants in the Holy Land.” In it, they show video footage of prominent politicians, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Member of Knesset Michael Ben-Ari, calling African refugees “infiltrators” and “cancer,” and openly using the n-word; of Israeli citizens harassing fellow Israelis for engaging in interracial relationships; and of some politicians even going so far as to propose the creation of concentration camps in which to hold African refugees.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has also drawn attention to the vitriolic strain of anti-black racism in Israeli society. In its September 2014 report “Make Their Lives Miserable”: Israel’s Coercion of Eritrean and Sudanese Asylum Seekers to Leave Israel details how “Israeli authorities have labelled Eritreans and Sudanese a ‘threat,’ branded them ‘infiltrators,’ denied them access to fair and efficient asylum procedures, and used the resulting insecure legal status as a pretext to unlawfully detain or threaten to detain them indefinitely, coercing thousands into leaving.”

HRW writes that “Israel’s policies are well summed up in the words of former Israeli Interior Minister Eli Yishai who said that as long as Israel cannot deport them to their home countries, it should ‘lock them up to make their lives miserable.’”

In the time since Blumenthal and Sheen’s documentary was made (mid 2013), Israel has in fact created what are effectively internment camps for African refugees. Israeli journalist Lia Tarachansky, reporting for the Real News, has documented these horrific practices.

Tarachansky notes that African refugees are imprisoned en masse in open-air prison camps in the middle of nowhere. They are told they are not prisoners, but they must sign in three times per day, and the prison camp is so far from any neighboring city that it is impossible to leave on foot. Moreover, when African refugees collectively decide to leave in protest of the concentration camp conditions in which they are involuntarily held, the army violently stops them. In response, African refugees are now going on hunger strike.

Israel’s modus operandi for dealing with this supposed refugee “problem” has been to trade African asylum-seekers with other countries in exchange for weapons. It goes without saying that such a decision bears striking and grotesque resemblances to slavery. (It might also, significantly, be herein noted that the US is complicit in this neo-slavery process, as the weapons Israel is exchanging for human beings may very well have been bought with the US’ over $100 billion of military aid.)

Even African Jews are not immune from this intense, unmitigated racism. Israel has admitted to forcibly sterilizing Ethiopian Jews, in an action that some argue constitutes the legal definition of genocide. Magen David Adom, the “Israeli Red Cross,” has refused to take blood donations from one of its own country’s Members of Knesset, Pnina Tamano-Shata, referring to it as “the special kind of Jewish-Ethiopian blood” they avoid.

Scholar Hanan Chehata has thoroughly detailed Israel’s “overt racism” against and segregation of African Jews, calling the ethnocracy the “promised land for Jews … as long as they’re not black.” The chief rabbi of Petach Tikvah (a “sister city” of Chicago) went to so far as to refuse to wed Ethiopian Jews, because he doubted that they were truly Jewish. Clearly, Israel’s white supremacist Zionism leads to its own despicable form of anti-Semitism.

The prison camp Lia Tarachansky has reported on for months is the Holot detention center, where many of these refugees are held, as detailed above. Tarachansky exposes the conditions these asylum seekers must endure with chilling video footage for The Real News:

Under Israel’s so-called “Infiltrators Law”—so named because Israeli politicians refer to African refugees as “infiltrators”—the government can put asylum-seekers in the camp for up to 20 months. A refugee told The Guardian that Israel is “sending people to Holot just because they’re Sudanese or Eritrean and you’re black, and that’s it, not because you’re a criminal, not because of any other reason. If they’re Sudanese they have to go to Holot. … Police are rounding up the people without due process.” Another asylum seeker reveals that Israelis call Africans “sh*t” and “garbage” and “say we’re not human beings.” In Holot, a detainee lamented “There is no freedom here.”

Israeli human rights organizations have petitioned against the “Infiltrator Laws,” which they say are openly racist and harsh. In September 2014, the Israeli High Court ruled that the concentration camp-like facility must be closed in 90 days, but Knesset Interior and Environment Committee Chair Miri Regev, of the ruling right-wing Likud party, has vowed to keep it open. As of February 2015, it continues to operate.

In response to the High Court’s mandate to close Holot, Israelis filled the streets for one of the many anti-African rallies in the country. In this march, Israelis carried ISIS-style flags, chanting “N*ggers go home” and “Sudanese to Sudan, Eritreans to Sudan”—a country where civil war has been raging for years. Israelis also shouted at African refugees lines such as “May you get AIDS, you whore. … May you be raped, you maniac. You’ll get raped and get AIDS. I spit on you, you garbage. May you be raped, you whore.” Protesters also called Israelis who defend the refugees “whores,” and a man in video footage taken by David Sheen can be seen shouting, in English, “F*ck you motherf*cker, piece of sh*t. Go back to Africa. We hate you as much as we can. Go back to Africa.”

According to Sheen, anti-black racism continues to get worse, not better: “Israel’s anti-African dragnet tightens.” For three years in a row, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has topped Sheen’s “list of Israel’s racist ringleaders.” Members of Netanyahu’s administration blame African refugees for the spread of diseases—in a disturbing parallel to past anti-Semitic myths—and speak of them as “a cancer in our body,” leading violent anti-African demonstrations where racist Israelis brutalize innocent African passerby. On Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year, in his annual video message to the country, Netanyahu bragged of his crackdown on African asylum-seekers.

Many, if not most, of the African refugees in Israel cannot return to their homeland, where they would face violence, war, or even death. In 2013, the Israeli government secretly deported thousands of Sudanese refugees to Sudan, in spite of threats to their lives. It did not inform the UNHCR that it was doing so, in flagrant contravention of international law.

About Ben Norton

Ben is a journalist and writer based in New York City. His work has been featured in a variety of publications, and he is presently a politics staff writer at Salon. His website can be found at BenNorton.com. Follow him on Twitter at @BenjaminNorton.

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17 Responses

  1. sawah
    February 24, 2015, 3:56 pm

    This reminded of the awful treatment of these refugees. I was in a prison in Tel Aviv in July 2009, long enough to hear stories of mostly black women from various places in Africa. Some had been waiting months and months for placement via the UN as they could not go home to their war torn countries…Looks like Israel doesnt bother anymore with the UN.
    Some of the women came to Israel on work visas and were rounded up months before their visas expired. One woman had a child with an Israeli. Although the Israeli refused to recognize the child, the child was put in foster care when the woman was put in prison. The social worker insisted the child (2 yrs old) was Israeli and the woman would probably not be allowed to take her child with her. i guess the US and other countries do things like this too…still, it makes me shutter……

    • just
      February 24, 2015, 4:15 pm

      Thanks for sharing that, sawah. ;( Welcome back, btw. I hope you stay around!

      Thanks, Ben, bringing this to the forefront again. I read this story this morning:

      “After harrowing journey, Sudanese asylum seeker freed from Israeli detention center

      Sadiq al-Sadiq agreed to leave Israel for Ethiopia only to find himself facing deportation to Sudan; he was then forced to return to Israel, where he has been jailed for nine months.

      Israeli authorities were expected Tuesday to release Sadiq al-Sadiq, the Sudanese asylum seeker who agreed to leave Israel for a third country in Africa, found himself in Addis Ababa on the verge of being deported to Sudan, and was eventually brought back to Israel against his will.

      The state argued that he had agreed to return to his native country, but Sadiq insists that he had only expressed willingness to go to a third country. After he was brought back to Israel nine months ago, he was sent to the Holot detention center where he has been held ever since.

      Three months ago the Tel Aviv District Court dismissed Sadiq’s petition to be released from Holot, but at the same time criticized the way he was treated by the Interior Ministry’s Population, Border and Immigration Authority.”

      link to haaretz.com

      “Infiltrators” is such a filthy word for refugees/asylum seekers. You just have to look at how Israel relishes in creating refugees among the Palestinians to understand their twisted mindset. It’s an overwhelmingly racist society, seriously lacking in humanity and compassion. I feel sorry for the minority of Jews of conscience who live among them~ they must be heartbroken, and I wager that eventually they will leave Israel, as others have.

      • CigarGod
        February 25, 2015, 9:28 am

        But, wait…..Israel is such a gay friendly country!
        Surely, that cancels out this refugee issue.

    • ziusudra
      February 27, 2015, 5:30 am

      Greetings MW,
      To whom it may concern:
      MW allows for pro & contra debates between pro Zion & anti Zion.

      I’m under the Impression that i’ve been deleted one too many times when i write of Judiasm & the ancient Judaic Clergy as to why World
      Jewry does what they having been influenced by the Clergy with strangulating laws & rules to live by from Ezra in 456BC till today.
      All documentation from 70AD to 800AD of the Torah, Mitzvot & Talmud made their mark on World Jewry showing their inclusive, esoteric learned spirit & mentality down thru the geneartions.
      They simply cannot be accused of racism against Black Africans when they couldn’t even get along as Whites with Whites in Europe from 200BC to 1945AD being 70% eclectic Europeans as in this article.
      ziusudra

      • Annie Robbins
        February 27, 2015, 11:44 am

        I’m under the Impression that i’ve been deleted one too many times when i write of Judiasm & the ancient Judaic Clergy as to why World Jewry does what they having been influenced by the Clergy with strangulating laws & rules to live by from Ezra in 456BC till today. All documentation from 70AD to 800AD of the Torah

        ziusdra, why don’t you contact phil and adam about that. i don’t know anything about this topic therefore i have no way of knowing whether what you are writing is correct or how it applies to topics we’re covering on this site. i have no way of knowing what expertise you bring into this commentary wrt religious history or the history of judaism. generally i just skip right over a comment (in your case literally hundreds you’ve posted here referencing this prehistoric era of judaism) once they stray off into a region of thought i am unfamiliar with UNLESS they are posted by an person who is not posting anonymously and their expertise can be verified.

        therefore, these comments (more times than not) just sit there til someone else comes along and decides to publish or trash them.

        they couldn’t even get along as Whites with Whites in Europe from 200BC to 1945AD

        my advice to you, take it somewhere else. otherwise write phil and adam. but my hunch is they know as much as i do about “the Clergy with strangulating laws & rules to live by from Ezra in 456BC” as i do. and one might think after having these kinds of comments deleted sooo many times you’d be able to figure this stuff out on your own. this pattern (of deleting your comments on religious history) is probably not going to be changing from our end. will it from yours?

        p.s. i would also xnay the “Zionstan” lingo if i was you.

  2. Bornajoo
    February 24, 2015, 4:39 pm

    Racist Israelis call black people “kooshim” (plural) or “kooshi (singular). It’s their version of the ‘N’ word and it’s used commonly and regularly by many Israelis.

    0.07%? That many?

    Just, there is no doubt that more and more of the good ones are indeed leaving and many more are trying to leave

    Thanks Ben.

  3. Kay24
    February 24, 2015, 9:50 pm

    I have seen a video of some people in the streets of Telaviv, calling Obama the N word, with the F word thrown in. What makes anyone think there are no racists over there? Didn’t that racist Sterling of the Clippers say they treat black people like dogs over there?

  4. Marnie
    February 25, 2015, 1:35 am

    Racism is in the air we breathe, the water we drink and the food we eat. It’s taught in schools. It’s preached by rabbis, prime ministers and members of knesset. It’s totally mainstream and the mantra by many is “I’d rather be racist than dead” completely oblivious to the fact that if you are racist (and proud of it), you’re already dead. I imagine the people who believe there is no racism over here are the same people who believe there’s no racism in America, and that’s a whole lotta folks, who bury their heads in the sand and say they just don’t see it. It’s way past time for the United States to free itself of its racism and bigotry and actually be the democracy that it claims to be, but that’s another subject. Is the zionist state racist? Is the pope catholic?

    • seafoid
      February 25, 2015, 11:18 am

      “Is the zionist state racist? Is the pope catholic?”

      Do bears shit in the Vatican ?

      Akiva Orr is very interesting on the subject of the Jewish state
      It becomes incoherent very quickly . Especially regarding Ruffheisen

      link to youtube.com

      • Marnie
        February 25, 2015, 3:40 pm

        Seafoid –
        This was interesting and thanks for posting it – there was another video on him about being human.

  5. seafoid
    February 25, 2015, 11:15 am

    This is all going to be remembered in the future. There is no point in Jews remembering the exile if they don’t help those now in exile.

    • just
      February 25, 2015, 11:35 am

      +100! You are on a roll this morning, seafoid. It’s always so welcome.

      Thanks for bringing Akiva Orr back to MW!

    • lysias
      February 25, 2015, 11:52 am

      And the nation that liberated the Jews from the Babylonian Exile was — Persia! Netanyahu ought to think about that historically secure event instead of talking about the fairy tale of Esther and Haman, with its genocidal overtones.

      • just
        February 25, 2015, 12:02 pm

        Perfect, lysias!

        Thank you.

  6. seafoid
    February 25, 2015, 2:27 pm

    “Protesters also called Israelis who defend the refugees “whores,” and a man in video footage taken by David Sheen can be seen shouting, in English, “F*ck you motherf*cker, piece of sh*t. Go back to Africa. We hate you as much as we can. Go back to Africa.”

    This should be made known to everyone at AIPAC 2015

    Such a lovely place, Israel.

  7. Pauline
    February 25, 2015, 2:59 pm

    Israel’s treatment of of African asylum seekers is a clear violation of its own treaty obligations as well as international law and points to the character of the apartheid regime that now rules the lives of millions of Palestinians as well. This article is an important part of the effort to document Israel’s human rights abuses and violations.

    • just
      February 25, 2015, 4:05 pm

      +1 Pauline!

      (nice to see you again)

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