A United States State Department report reviewing the global situation of refugees and asylum seekers in 2011 describes Israel's treatment of African asylum seekers as "lacking."
The report, titled "Human Rights Practices for 2011," was released on Thursday. It deals with a series of criteria pertaining to asylum cases, such as legal status and the providing of shelter, employment and healthcare; and is based on data provided by NGOs and the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR).
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The report says that while Israel's laws "provide for the granting of temporary asylum and the government has established a system for providing temporary protection for most asylum seekers, there were complaints about the system’s accessibility and reports of discrimination."
The current laws, the report added, "Allow the Ministry of Interior to reject applications without appeal even at the registration stage, and exclude 'enemy nationals' from receiving asylum. The regulations fail to establish an independent appeal process."
Asylum seekers in Ashdod (Photo: Eliad Levy)
UNHCR data quoted by the State Department indicated that in 2011, 4,603 new asylum applications were filed; the government rejected 3,692 and approved one.
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The report further criticized the use of the term "infiltrators" by State officials: "Government officials often negatively referred to asylum seekers as 'infiltrators.'
"According to NGOs, officials periodically characterized asylum seekers as directly associated with rises in crime, disease, and terrorism."
The report also mentions an interview Interior Minister Eli Yishai gave Army Radio in December 2011, in which he said: "I will safeguard the Jewish majority of the state, and I ensure that the last of the Sudanese, and the Eritreans, and all of the infiltrators, to the last of them, will return to their countries."
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While "recognized refugees receive social services, including access to the national healthcare system," the report noted that the government does not provide asylum seekers with public social benefits such as health insurance.
The report does, however, mention that in 2011 Israel granted temporary protection to refugees, primarily to Eritrean and Sudanese asylum seekers, and at times to asylum seekers from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ivory Coast, and Somalia.
Physicians for Human Rights commented on the report's findings, saying that "Sans proper protection and in preventing access to basic services like healthcare and equal opportunity-employment, Israel has become an ugly example for the treatment of asylum seekers.
"We remind the prime minister and the government that they are responsible. The prime minister must make the brave decision to adopt a policy of social residency, which will provide asylum seekers with temporary protection and a dignified existence, pending the decision on their cases."
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