Position Paper: African Asylum Seekers Arriving in Israel via the Sinai Desert

Photo by Meged Gozani, Activestills

The Refugees’ Rights Forum, of which ACRI is a member, recently published a position paper about African Asylum Seekers that arrive in Israel via the Sinai Desert. Below is a summary of this position paper (the complete document is here).

In recent years, Israel has witnessed a sharp increase in the arrival of asylum seekers. By March 2012, at least 58,088 asylum seekers had entered Israel, originating mainly from Sudan (25.91%) and Eritrea (56.46%). The asylum seekers enter Israel by crossing the Sinai desert and the Egyptian border.


Recognition rate:

The average recognition rate in the world of asylum seekers from Eritrea and Sudan is 84.5% and 74.4%, respectively. By contrast, Israel’s recognition rate is less than 1 percent: since signing the Refugee Convention in 1951,  Israel has recognized only 157 asylum seekers as refugees according to the Convention and has not found permanent solutions for the few it recognized.


Torture camps in Sinai:

Since 2009, smugglers in the Sinai have imprisoned refugees (mainly Eritrean) en route to Israel in harsh conditions, which include severe torture, sexual assault and rape, and demands for large sums of money for their release. Testimonies of over 1,300 survivors recorded at PHR-Israel’s Open Clinic since 2010 revealed that 59% of the interviewees described being subjected to torture by smugglers who threatened them at gunpoint while they were chained.


Legislation targeting asylum seekers:

Since the beginning of 2012, the Israeli government has taken several measures designed to deter the additional arrival of African asylum seekers in Israel. For example:

  1. Amendment criminalizing employment  of, providing shelter or renting accommodation to, and transporting asylum seekers;
  2. Amendment forbidding asylum seekers to send money abroad;
  3. Amendment imposing monthly deposits from salaries of “Infiltrators;”
  4. Amendment preventing migrants from appealing their deportation and expands the Immigration Authority’s writ over asylum seekers legally staying in Israel;
  5. New regulation would bar asylum seekers without passports from filing civil lawsuits in Israeli courts;
  6. Enforcement of a 20% tax on employers of asylum seekers.


The Anti-Infiltration Law:

The Israeli Knesset passed amendments to the Prevention of Infiltration Law (enacted on January 18, 2012). Under the law, asylum seekers are automatically detained for three years without trial, or indefinite detention if they come from “enemy states” such as Sudan. The new Anti-Infiltration Law is in stark contrast to Israel’s obligations according to international law. It does not provide for individualized assessment of asylum seekers and does not distinguish between refugees, illegal migrants and ‘infiltrators’ who enter Israel with intention to harm the country’s security.


Violation of the non-refoulement principle:

Between 2004-2011, Israel has occasionally deported asylum seekers back to Egypt shortly after their entry into Israel, in violation of the non-refoulement  principle: the prohibition against  the expulsion  or return of a person to a place in which he is expected to suffer persecution. This principle, formalized in Article 33 of the Refugees Convention, is the cornerstone of the protection of refugees, and has long been considered a binding principle in international customary law.


Detention Facilities:

 In order to implement the Anti-Infiltration Law, the Israeli government has begun to expand its current migrant detention system to over 12,400 places. In late 2010, the Israeli government announced plans to build a mass-detention facility for so-called “infiltrators” to be run by the Israel Prison Service (IPS) under the responsibility of the Ministry of Defense. As of August 2012, there were 5,400 places in Saharonim prison in the southern desert of Israel and government statements to the media speak of plans to detain20,000  under the Anti-Infiltration Law. Conditions in existing detention facilities are substandard and access to judicial, social and medical services is restricted due to overcrowding and understaffing.


Recommendations to the Israeli Authorities:

  • Israel has the right to protect its borders, but it also bears an obligation to respect the Refugees Convention, to which it is a signatory, and to enact policies in accordance with its obligations under this Convention.
  • Israel should adopt domestic legislation and earmark sufficient resources to ensure that all asylum seekers who reach Israel have access to a fair procedure for examining their asylum requests, regardless of their country of origin.
  • Israel should refrain from using retrogressive legislation such as the Anti-Infiltration Law; it should ensure that internationally-recognized rights of asylum seekers to a fair process are safeguarded.
  • Israel should not detain asylum seekers for a longer period than the one required for determination of their identity and confirmation that they do not pose a threat to society.  Children and unaccompanied minors should not be detained at all and should be referred to the welfare system. Israel should allow the NGOs protecting the rights of asylum seekers access to detention facilities.
  • Pending a government decision regarding their status, all asylum seekers should receive work permits to ensure that they can support themselves in a dignified manner.  If it denies them the right to work, the government should provide asylum seekers with housing and other basic needs outside the framework of detention until it decides their final status.
  • Open temporary civilian transit centers should be established for asylum seekers who cannot yet support themselves in a dignified manner in accordance to international standards.
  • Israel should strengthen its victim identification system and ensure rehabilitation services for victims of torture in accordance with the EU Guidelines on Torture, as well as providing access to basic services in detention and in the community.
  • Israel should not return asylum seekers to Egypt via the “coordinated return” procedure which prevents asylum seekers from realizing their rights and endangers their lives.
  • Israel should respect the freedom of movement of asylum seekers within the country.
  • Israel should grant asylum seekers with “social residency” status to enable their immediate access to basic health and welfare services.
  • Asylum seekers who are determined to be eligible for refugee status must be granted this status in accordance with the UN Refugees Convention.

To download the complete position paper, click here.


The “Refugees’ Rights Forum” consists of the nine human rights organizations active in promoting the rights of refugees and asylum seekers in Israel: The Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), The Hotline for Migrant Workers, Physicians for Human Rights-Israel (PHR-IL),The Refugee Rights Clinic, Amnesty International Israel, ASSAF – Aid Organization for refugees and asylum seekers, ARDC – The African Refugee Development Center, Kav LaOved (Worker’s Hotline), IRAC – Israel Religious Action Center

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Categories: Citizenship and Residency, Democracy and Civil Liberties, Refugees and Asylum-Seekers

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