Illegal immigration to Israel began around the second half of the 2000s; a large number of immigrants from Africa entered Israel in violation of Israeli law. The entries occurred mainly through the fenced border between Israel and Egypt.
Data supplied by the Israeli Interior Ministry, puts the number of illegal immigrants into the country at 26,635 people by July 2010 and over 55,000 by January 2012. Most of these African migrants are regarded as legitimate asylum seekers by various human rights organizations and make up to over 0.5% of Israel’s population.
Migrants often seek asylum status under the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees of the United Nations and as such, many of them particularly citizens of Eritrea and Sudan, cannot be forcibly deported from Israel. Eritrea citizens can’t be deported due to the opinion of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees that the country has a difficult internal situation. Israel grants a temporary residence permit to undocumented workers , which is required to be renewed every three months and has approved less than 1% of asylum applications since it signed the UN Refugee Convention six decades ago.
The country has a detention centre known as Holot situated deep in the Negev desert, its referred to as an open-stay centre by the Israeli government but is run by the prison service and abides by strict rules which include a night-time curfew, which can land one in jail, if broken. Many asylum seekers are relocated here after spending some time in the country and from there can anticipate three glaring choices;
- Go home
- Stay in Israel, but be imprisoned indefinitely
- Accept departure to a third country
The Israeli government has apparently been offering African migrants a chance to be moved to a third country, described as a safe haven with a little money as an incentive and promise of papers that will give them legal status in the country upon arrival. The country has made deals with two countries to this end but the two countries are still unverifiable with accounts mostly speaking about Rwanda and Uganda. BBC news reports that; “In October, Israeli immigration authorities said 3,000 asylum seekers had left Israel for a third country. But the BBC has learned that only seven have registered with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in Rwanda, all of them Eritreans, and only eight, mostly from Sudan, in Uganda.”
In a reply to the question on the glaring reluctance to grant a permanent asylum status to these migrants, despite treating them as refugees, the Foreign ministry spokesperson, Emmanuel Nahshon told BBC, “It’s obvious that we live here in a situation which is rather complex and complicated. And if you add this element of migrants who come here and who want to stay here – undoubtedly because this is a rich and prosperous country – then it could become also a challenge to our identity here in Israel.
It is very possible that Israel’s solution to her migrant problem is a breach of International law and even more glaring that the government’s action puts a number of lives in danger especially if these people are being smuggled illegally.