Refugees in Israel – Political aspects vs. International Laws



The state of Israel faces an influx of illegal immigrants from foreign countries, asking for political asylum in Israel. Residing mostly in the southern parts of Tel-Aviv, this massive quantity of immigrants creates a real problem. Most of these refugees arrive, after many hardships and difficulties, from countries in Africa, and immediately upon arriving to Israel face the problem of regulating their personal status and life in a new place.

They arrive mostly from countries such as Sudan and Eritrea, in search of a refuge and chance of having a better life in Israel. They are underpaid, residing mostly at the worst parts of Tel-Aviv, but also in other cities as well. They live, work, and even get married and have children here – many of them speak Hebrew.

As years go by, this wave of immigrants created some problematic issues such as criminal activities, living in unsuited flats which were built for a smaller number of tenants, competition over available working positions, etc. The issue of that immigration wave was discussed many times and it is clear beyond any doubt that the problem must be solved.

International Law

The refugees are seeking relocation from their countries of origin due to dangers and a series of misfortunes – many years of natural disasters and civil wars that led to a shaky political and financial state. The refugees are looking for recognition as political refugees and permission to stay and live in Israel. According to International Laws, it is forbidden to refuse an immigrant asking for political asylum, if they can prove real danger and threat to their lives in their native countries. The state of Israel has signed the 1954 international treaty concerning the status of immigrants, and the Protocol updating the treaty to include also refugees from any place and time (except irregularities). This protocol became effective on October 1967 and the State of Israel signed it on June 14, 1968. As a result, the State of Israel must obey its definitions and regulations.

According to the treaty, the definition of a refugee runs as follows:

“A refugee, according to the Convention is someone who is unable or unwilling to return to their country of origin owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion.”

The treaty forbids deportation of refugees, and specifies the basic human rights awarded to refugees at their absorbing countries, including the right for occupational freedom, stated below:

“The Contracting State shall accord to refugees lawfully staying in their territory the most favourable treatment accorded to nationals of a foreign country in the same circumstances, as regards the right to engage in wage earning employment.”

Israeli laws

In most cases those seeking political asylum apply for group or individual recognition as refugees and their requests are pending for a long period of time. The government recognizes the fact that they can not be deported to their countries of origin, but recognition as refugees means they will be entitled to social benefits, right to earn a living and work, etc. In fact, the country does not recognize their refugee status, and refuses to award them the rights specified in the treaty. So, although the State of Israel has signed a treaty that awards asylum seekers and refugees rights at their country of refuge, the government refuses to recognize their status as such. Hundreds of applications are submitted but they are not considered, and only very few cases of recognition as refugees are recognized. The Israeli Ministry of the Interior and government, for the sake of pretence, award only temporary resident visas, which can be extended, but do not include working rights and social benefits rights.

Actions taken by the government for solving the problem

The huge number of foreign citizens calls for a real solution, and the government has taken several actions; the main actions include:

1. Putting a border line fence, blocking entrance of foreign refugees from Egyptian border. This solution, combined with intensified laws enforcement reduced considerably the illegal entry to Israel;

2. Changing the laws of illegal entry (offenses and legislation) 1954. On 2012 the law was updated so that the government can put under procedural arrest, without legal proceedings, foreign citizens that were not yet recognized as refugees or asylum seeking, for a period of 3 years;

3. Encouraging willfully departure by providing aid and financial support.

Conflict between political interests and legal principles

Above said reflects a problematic situation in which both the country and the foreign refugees are trapped. On one hand, Israel is committed to the Treaty and must award refugees and asylum seekers their rights, but on the other hand it fights to minimize the damages resulting from the presence of those groups of people in Israel. There are those who suggest that according to the Treaty the country can not prevent the entry of asylum seekers but must try to help them and examine each application separately. De facto, the gates of Israel are closed and the applications submitted by the refugees are pending without being reviewed, and therefore thousands of foreign citizens hold temporary visas, not allowing them reasonable means to support themselves.

The conflict between the need of the country to take precautions against this wave of immigrants, and its international commitments results in contradictory decisions and actions. It is quite evident, and many Human Rights organizations are constantly protesting against it. For example, many entries are submitted to High Court of Justice, demanding to change the decisions issued by the state. These organizations successfully managed to get a verdict forbidding the country to take legal actions against an employer hiring foreign refugees. Just recently, the Court has intervened again and ruled against the amendment of the law for preventing illegal entry (offenses and legislation) 1954. On September 16th, the High Court, in his capacity as the High Court of Justice, has adapted a precedent – a decision which cancels the rulings of Item 30a of the law, enabling keeping refugees in special compounds. The Court has compared the contents that law and the law for maintaining Human dignity and freedom, and has decided that the law does not meet basic human standards, as it denies personal freedom of many foreign citizens. Although the Court understood that the reason behind the law is understandable (preventing relocation of massive waves of immigrants), it is a problematic law, and its extent of denying human rights disqualifies it.


The state of Israel is facing massive waves of refugees from South African countries, seeking help and aid. The country is lost and bewildered, and there isn’t any suitable solution combining together international laws and the needs of the Israeli citizens. This conflict results in Court intervention on some rare occasions.

In our opinion, the government has adapted an attitude of solving the problem by locking up the foreign refugees but the government cannot deport them, in view of the danger they will face returning to their home lands. It is possible that the country considers the possibility of allowing them normal life until their returning to their countries of origin.

This article and its content do not constitute a legal opinion and can not be considered as such. Nor can it replace an individual legal advice. Liability and responsibility for using its contents and information shall lies entirely on the readers.

Dotan Cohen Law Office specializes in immigration and relocation law. The office provides legal counsel in immigration to international and local companies as well as individuals. The office provides legal counsel in immigration law to the following countries: Israel, Canada, United States and Australia