Date: Friday, 09 July 2021
When Ayelet Shaked became interior minister, she used xenophobic terminology to declare she would act to return asylum seekers to their countries of origin and encourage their “voluntary return” to a third country. Like other politicians, Shaked realized there was political capital to be made on the backs of the most vulnerable people in Israeli society.
She hasn’t stopped being photographed hugging Shefi Paz, Israel’s most high-profile activist for deporting asylum seekers – someone who faces three serious indictments. Shaked has also reiterated Paz’s racist remarks and harebrained schemes for asylum seekers and Israel’s immigration policy.
Interior Ministry figures show that Israel has about 40,000 asylum seekers from Eritrea and Sudan, 7,000 of them children, who have been here since 2006 with no legal status and no basic social benefits.
Israel abuses the asylum seekers, flouting its commitment to the Geneva Conventions. It doesn’t consider their asylum requests or delays the process and prevents them from obtaining permanent status or recognition as refugees.
Israel, meanwhile, has been downgraded for the first time in a decade by the annual U.S. State Department report on countries’ efforts to fight human trafficking. The report cites Israel’s ignominious treatment of asylum seekers as one reason for the downgrade. It details the economic distress, prevalent especially among Eritrean women, that greatly increases their vulnerability to sex trafficking.
Shaked knows that the asylum seekers can’t be deported, and under international law and conventions Israel has signed, it can’t forcibly return the migrants – the euphemism is “voluntary departure.” The agreement with the UN Refugee Agency, which then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu signed and revoked amid criticism from Naftali Bennett’s Yamina party and toxic incitement by Shefi Paz, is still on the table. It’s worth a reexamination.