Since then, the vast majority of asylum seekers in Israel lives in constant fear of detention and under pressure to be "voluntarily" deported. The Israeli government has been sluggishin assessing each individual asylum claim. It argues almost all are economic migrants and so do not need asylum. They are often labeled by officials “infiltrators” whose presence in the country could threaten Israel’s “existence as a Jewish and democratic state.”
According to online newspaper Times of Israel, “Israelis, according to polls, agree with their prime minister. In 2012, some 86 percent of Israelis said they viewed African migrants as “a danger to Israel.” Israelis who have have shown strong opposition to their presence also cite a feeling of insecurity. However, in a ruling on an "open detention facility" for asylum seekers located in the Negev desert, Israeli Supreme Court justice Edna Arbel statedthat "studies show the crime level among African migrants is lower than that of society in general". The study was conducted by Israel's parliament, the Knesset.
Many European citizens, too, don’t appear to have much appetite for absorbing asylum seekers. A 2014 Pew Research Center poll showed that vast majorities in Italy, Greece, France, the United Kingdom, Spain, Poland and Germany want immigration to decrease or stay the same”.
African asylum seekers in Israel thus also face widespread social stigma and remain stuck in a legal limbo, unrecognized as legitimate asylum applicants by state institutions.The vast majority of asylum seekers thus live in constant fear of detention in Israel and under pressure to be "voluntarily" deported. The Israeli government and right wing establishment argues they are economic migrants and so do not need asylum.
Israel has so far recognisedfewer than 1%of asylum claims, the lowest percentage in the Western world. It granted refugee status to only one Sudanese and to a handful of Eritreans. By not individually assessing each asylum claim, and so not granting refugee statuses, it effectively bars the overwhelming majority of asylum seekers from access to formal work permits, health care, or welfare services in order to survive, advance, and integrate.
According to International law, countries cannot deport asylum seekers without first assessing their individual asylum claims to determine if a refugees status is applicable. In this sense, for the government of Israel to be able to forcefully deport non-eligible asylum seekers it would have to start assessing asylum requests and so, to also start granting refugees statuses to those with legitimate asylum claims. According to Israeli NGO ASSAF, Eritreans and Sudanese, who comprise “90% of the asylum seeking population in Israel, receive relatively high recognition rates as refugees around the world ( 88% and 64% respectively). However, the current rate of refugee status recognition in Israel is 0.2%.”
Because of their lacking of a legal status, asylum seekers in Israel remain stranded in a legal limbo while also facing arbitrary detention without trial.
Asylum seekers and activists in Israel say this and other measures are meant to break their spirits into “voluntarily” being deported to undisclosed third countries where safety as a whole and especially from being deported into their countries of origin where they face imprisonment and death, is far from guaranteed.
Some reports have emerged that some of those countries may be Uganda and Rwanda. Reports indicate they have received arms, military training, agricultural assistance or money for receiving Israel’s unwanted asylum seekers. According to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz “in 2015, 3,381 asylum seekers voluntarily left Israel, compared to 6,414 the year before.”
In a case that caught some media attention, three Eritrean asylum seekers who left Israel were executed by ISIS in a Libyan beach after being finally persuaded to take the $3,500 and leave Israel. After at least one of them,Tesfay Kidane, was sent to Rwanda and was reportedly not accepted there, he continued to Sudan and then to Libya where he tried to reach Europe by boat, only for the boat to be sent back and eventually he was kidnapped by the group.
However, this decision to leave Israel is culmination of a long winding road that begins much early on. After many asylum seekers get separated from their families while escaping their home countries, kidnapped by smugglers in exchange for further ransoms paid from families back home, or tortured and imprisoned along the way, by the time they arrive to Israel, their hardships are far from over: many have been sentenced, without trial, to as much as a year in the “Holot” detention facility for African asylum seekers, which is located in the Negev desert in the south of the country. At least one of the three asylum seekers who were killed at the hand of ISIS in Libya, was also held in the Holot detentioncamp before eventually leaving Israel through the “voluntary” deportation scheme. The infamous Holot detention camp is an “open prison” where inmates can go out, but need to be back before the 10pm head count in order not be transferred to a closed prison. Any single male asylum seeker under the age of 60 can be arbitrarily sent to Holot.
But Israel is hardly alone in its effort to rid itself of asylum seekers. For example, despite its bombing campaign in Syria and its long time economic and political relations with the country, Russia has only granted two Syrians with refugee status between 2011 and April 2016, while thousands remain in Russia, like in Israel, in a limbo, working illegally with over-stayed temporary visas. Russian authorities have also refused visa extensions and suggested asylum seekers go back to Syria.
Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC)countries, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates have pledged (0) zero resettlement places.They have been criticizedfor their unwillingness to take in refugees despite monetary contributions to humanitarian efforts elsewhere and varying stakes in arming the Syrian rebel and Islamist factions fighting the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Meanwhile in Europe, it was recently reported that Italy was “sending migrants back to Sudan on private jets.” Also in Slovakia, there is a preference by the government to hosting asylum seekers of specific religion: according to the Washington Post the Slovakian government announced that “it would help share the burden of the influx of tens of thousands of migrants into Europe by taking in 200 Syrian refugees. That's a small number, but it was made all the more glaring by another stipulation — these refugees had to be Christian”. This also seems to be the case in Poland.
In Hungary, according to Human Rights Watch, asylum seekers and refugees are called, “intruders,” and “potential terrorists,” all bent on “destroying Western civilization, burying Christianity and the Western culture. Prime Minister Viktor Orbán himself in July referred to migration as “poison.” Furthermore, Hungary announced plans to detain all asylum seekers “in ‘shelters’ for the duration of their asylum application”. Israelinews outlets also reported that Hungary and Bulgaria made contacts with Israel as a result of their wish to to build a fence similar to the one on the Israeli-Egyptian border in 2013 that Israel built to stem the arrival of asylum seekers to Israeli territory. Despite the arrival of asylum seekers having come to almost a complete halt since then, Israel has not made it easier for those already in Israel to be granted refugee status and thus be properly assisted.
Meanwhile in Australia, an article by the NY Times titled “Broken Men in Paradise: The world’s refugee crisis knows no more sinister exercise in cruelty than Australia’s island prisons” details the suffering inflicted on “asylum seekers from across the world banished by Australia” to remote island prisons to languish in limbo.
The United States, under Donald Trump's administration, has insisted on banning the entry to the US by any nationals from several majority Muslim countries which also includes asylum seekers and refugees, green card holders and dual citizenship nationals.
The unsurmountable obstacles now placed on the way of those seeking asylum from those countries in the US is explained in an article by Bill Frelick : “The order states that after 90 days, any foreign nationals will be barred from entry if their home country does not provide "the information needed ... to adjudicate any visa, admission, or other benefit" under U.S. immigration law. That would presumably include refugee status”. In summary, and as Human Rights Watch European Media Director Andrew Stroehlein put it in his twitter feed: “'Extreme vetting' or extreme absurdity? Trump order means oppressed refugee needs permission of oppressor for entry”.
The following series of images documenting the plight of African asylum seekers in Israel comes within a context where the biggest refugee crisis taking place in Europe since World War II and the exponential increase of the number of displaced persons throughout the globe is shaping the fabric of contemporary politics.
Adding to this, Israel’s long standing policy towards African asylum seekers has sent ripple effects into the situation of refugees beyond its fortified borders. Many of the measures taken by Israel’s government to stem the arrival of asylum seekers over the last decade to its territory have been taken as one example by countries in Europe and beyond.
This photo series thus goes in search of what is the situation of African asylum seekers in Israel as a way of looking into a possible future of asylum seekers in other countries as years pass and they remain stranded in limbo. This is increasingly the case in Europe and beyond, where their prolonged presence is viewed with hostility as governments increasingly limit their welcoming.