Friday was World Refugee Day, and Israel again stood out among developed nations for its abysmal track record in refugee assistance.
Israel signed the Convention on the Status of Refugees in 1951. The Convention is the key international treaty that governs who is a refugee, what rights they have and states’ obligations toward them.
But Israel has one of the lowest rates of refugee acceptance in the entire world. Since signing the Convention 63 years ago, Israel has accepted only about 200 refugees (202 as of last year).
According to the Hotline for Refugees and Migrants, between July 2009 and August 2013, Israel approved just 26 asylum applications out of 17,194 applications – .0015% – the lowest rate among all Western countries.
These asylum seekers, most of whom come from the African nations of Sudan and Eritrea, are overwhelmingly refugees according to international law.
But Israel treats them as criminals or near-criminals, classifying these asylum seekers as “infiltrators.”
Israel detains them, locks them in detention centers which are essentially prisons, imprisons son in actual prisons, and withholds basic services – including food and non-detention shelter – from them.
Israel also refuses to process their applications for asylum and often uses their attempt to gain recognition as a means of tracking them and eventually detaining them.
Because international law prohibits deporting almost every one of these asylum seekers, Israel has launched a “voluntary departure” program that gives these asylum seekers a small amount of money and a plane ticket back to their home country or Uganda. 4,000 have reportedly left Israel since December.
Individual Israelis, almost all secular and left of center politically have, however, formed organizations to aid these asylum seekers, but the help they can provide is small and ad hoc.
Israel’s abysmal treatment of these African asylum seekers and its general policy of mistreatment of non-Jewish asylum seekers has drawn the ire of human rights groups and asylum seekers. A recent report by the US Department of State’s Comptroller excoriated Israel’s treatment of asylum seekers.
Israel claims the state needs to be Jewish, that these non-Jewish asylum seekers don’t fit in and that they damage the Jewish quality of the state. Israel also says that because it has accepted hundreds of thousands of Jewish refugees and their relatives, be they from Russia, Ukraine, Ethiopia, Yemen, Morocco, Algeria Syria and other countries, it is unfair to criticize Israel for being unresponsive to the plight of these non-Jewish African “infiltrators.”
The problem is, of course, that almost every Western country could use the same argument to keep out Jews – like some did in the run-up to the WW2 and the Holocaust.
The Convention Israel signed after WW2 was meant in part to prevent that from happening again to anyone trying to flee genocide, danger, famine or persecution.
How sad that Israel is now part of the same problem that once helped to assure the deaths of so many Jews.
No one says the issue of African asylum seekers is easy for Israel to properly handle.
But what Israel is doing now is abysmal and criminal, and for that, all of us who don’t speak out against it should be ashamed.