Israel's Treatment Of Refugees Among Worst In The Developed World
“We − HIAS, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security − trained Israeli officers to the highest international standards,” he said. “But the [Israeli] system is basically carved out to reject claims. The state is doing just about everything it can to not implement the spirit of the Geneva Convention. Instead of judging claims effectively, it is deterring refugees from coming or staying here.” The rate of asylum seekers receiving refugee status in Israel is the lowest in the world.
Chaim Landau writes in Ha'aretz:
…French-Israeli lawyer Jean-Marc Liling, …who used to work for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, emphasized that Israel has no immigration or refugee policy. More non-Jews than Jews have made Israel their home since the mid 90’s, and about 10 percent of Israel’s working population are African migrants, Liling told us the system in place to determine eligibility for refugee status is opaque and inadequate at best; there is no coherent government policy to ensure migrants and asylum seekers receive the minimal services and rights they are entitled to. Most of those here are in a state of limbo: they are not deported home by Israel, but are not allowed to work legally either. The result is a system characterized by arbitrariness. It is neither just nor smart, and is arguably the worst of all worlds.
This failure is exacerbated by statements made by Israel's politicians… Interior Minister Eli Yishai saying that most African refugees are criminals, and suggesting that they are HIV carriers…Likud MK Miri Regev calling African migrants a ‘cancer in our body’ while stirring up a mob that went on to attack random Africans in South Tel Aviv. Statements like this, which invalidate the humanity of the ‘strangers’ among us, constitute a Hilul Hashem (desecration of God’s name), and cause bewilderment and shame among many Jews worldwide who normally support and admire Israel.
What Israel does need is a thought-out and sensible policy; the broad contours of such a policy are already known. Refugee status should be properly ascertained according to transparent professional criteria; those who are eligible should be granted assistance and the right to work, perhaps in place of importing foreign workers from Thailand and the Philippines. Those not eligible may be deported back to their country of origin, as is the practice in most other countries.
This crisis presents an opportunity…for concrete and substantive Israeli and global Jewish cooperation and joint learning. Jews abroad, living as a minority, have substantial experience and expertise in dealing with matters relating to refugees and minorities. Israeli policy makers should be consulting with global Jewish organizations such as –the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS), the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, the American Jewish Committee, and others. Unfortunately, where the Israeli government has consulted with these organizations, it has mostly ignored their recommendations.…
More than ignore recommendations from Jewish groups outside Israel, the government of Benjamin Netanyahu has been more stingy in accepting refugees than many countries were when Jews tried to flee the Nazis three quarters of a century ago, as Lauren Gelfond Feldinger reports, also in Ha'aretz:
Israel's behavior with regard to refugee issues under Netanyahu should embarrass, anger and sadden all of us.
When Israel became one of the last democratic countries to launch a system to deal with asylum claims, in 2009, the international refugee expert who oversaw the initiative could not have predicted that his high hopes would turn slowly into disappointment.
Joel Moss, a former Canadian asylum judge who relocated permanently to Jerusalem four years ago to head the local Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society office, looked grim as he reflected on his work here.
Moss was hired to oversee HIAS’s contract to train Israeli government officials in refugee law and in judging asylum claims. He recounts how he was looking forward to using his expertise to help Israel fulfill its legal obligations, as party to many international conventions that deal with such claims. As an Orthodox Jew, he was also thrilled to help the state meet the moral obligations of Jewish law “to help the stranger,” he said.
But looking back on the Israeli system he helped launch three years ago, Moss says that he is now “saddened for the asylum seekers, and saddened and embarrassed for Israel.”
“We − HIAS, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security − trained Israeli officers to the highest international standards,” he said. “But the [Israeli] system is basically carved out to reject claims. The state is doing just about everything it can to not implement the spirit of the Geneva Convention. Instead of judging claims effectively, it is deterring refugees from coming or staying here.”
Though Israel signed the 1951 Geneva Refugee Convention, which was created in the wake of the Holocaust, as well as its 1967 Protocols, which should ensure refugees “fair and humane asylum proceedings,” the rate of asylum seekers receiving refugee status in Israel is the lowest in the world, Moss said.
Since the 2009 launch of Israel’s Refugee Status Determination unit, 8,000 of 65,000-plus cases have been heard. Of those, 16 people have been granted asylum, according to the Ministry of the Interior. According to the UNHCR, the MOI figures are misleading. After Israel took over the responsibility of judging claims from the UNHCR three years ago, Israeli RSD officers made only two positive recommendations for asylum status, one of which was granted, said William Tall, the UNHCR envoy in Israel. "The rest were case assessed and recommended by us [before the handover]."…
Unfortunately, for many of us, it will do none of those things.