The government is violating the socioeconomic rights of those African migrants who cannot be deported and might be violating international law, State Comptroller Joseph Shapira said in his annual report on Tuesday.
Although a 2014 report by the comptroller already alerted the government to the issue, he said that those warnings were mostly ignored, which has escalated the crisis confronting the migrants and residents of south Tel Aviv where a majority of the migrants reside.
Migrants’ health issues, trauma issues from having been tortured or used in the slave trade, and ability to afford basic items such as food have been ignored, Shapira said.
Explaining that the state has a clear policy of pressing migrants to leave Israel through detention or deportation, more than a decade after migrants started to stream into Israel across the then-unsecured Egyptian border, the state has not arrived at any policy for dealing with those migrants who remain.
While around 20,000 migrants have left since the population peaked at around 60,000, the report said that the Population, Immigration and Borders Authority as well as the Health, Social Welfare, Justice, and Finance ministries are mostly trying to pretend that the majority who remain, including 5,000 children born in Israel, do not exist.
Both the comptroller and a parallel report from the pro-migrant Hotline for Refugees and Migrants presented staggering statistics in which the state has rejected nearly all applications for refugee status on which it has ruled, and has refused to decide about requests that date back five years or more.
Out of around 25,000 requests for refugee status, only 10 Sudanese and Eritrean requests have been granted, while 3,377 Sudanese and 3,550 Eritrean requests that are five years older or more have gone unanswered, said the Hotline.
The Hotline called the state’s explanation for rejecting the requests problematic, with Israel clashing with the overwhelming majority global view that Eritreans who are forced into abusive military service are entitled to refugee status. (Israel, along with a minority of European countries dispute this view.) Furthermore, the Hotline said many requests are rejected as being filed late when nearly all migrants did not know that the state would set a deadline and an Israeli court on migrant issues has rejected imposing such a deadline.
Shapira strongly implied that this rate of rejection and non-decision was inconsistent with other countries’ behavior and with Israel’s international obligations having ratified the Convention on Refugees.
He said Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit needs to check whether the delay and rejection rate violate international law, and to instruct the involved ministries to change their conduct accordingly.
The comptroller seemed particularly focused on Mandelblit’s intervention in light of repeated statements from directors-general of the Prime Minister’s Office over the years that they had no intention of forcing the disparate ministries to formulate a policy to cope with migrants’ rights while they remain in Israel.
Moreover, the report criticized a ban on migrants’ employment and the inconsistent enforcement of that ban, which it said hurts the rule of law and creates uncertainty for hiring migrants for whom there should be no hiring limitations.
The Population, Immigration and Borders Authority responded that much of the criticism was true in the past, but that in recent months the state has invested in increasing its pace and ability for handling migrants’ refuge requests. It said that in the first quarter of 2018, 500 requests are being handled by its panel for such requests.
In addition, the authority said that its panels for handling refuge requests have been overwhelmed by a recent influx of requests by Ukrainians and Georgians.