Israel setting up asylum process for refugees

We’ve posted a couple of stories about refugees from Africa trying to get into Israel, here, here and here.  Africans began heading for Israel after Egypt treated asylum seekers brutally, and Israel is building a border fence to prevent floods of people. A recent article in the Jerusalem Post begins:

For most of Israel’s history, the word refugee has been associated with Jewish communities fleeing persecution or Palestinians stuck for decades in makeshift camps. The few dozen asylum-seekers a year requesting refugee status in Israel were not assessed by the state, but by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), with help from the Joint Distribution Committee.

But in recent years, local and regional events have drawn hundreds of asylum-seekers here every month, flooding the system and underscoring Israel’s need for an independent refugee processing system.

….In July, Israel became one of the last developed countries to launch an asylum claims process – without fanfare and virtually without notice.

There follows an interview with Joel Moss, director of HIAS in Israel, who helped set up the process. I’m not going to go through the whole thing here, but here’s a summary of the numbers:

How many asylum-seekers are in Israel and how have the numbers grown?

There are about 18,000 asylum-seekers in Israel now, mostly from Africa and some from Eastern Europe and the Far East.

Up until around 2003, if there were 100 new asylum-seekers in Israel a year, that was a lot. Now there are often 600-1,000 arriving each month. [These] are large numbers for a country this size and for a country that never dealt with this issue before.

If you do the pro-rata calculation between the population of Israel and the US, it as if the US had seen a rise from 2,000 asylum seekers in 2005 to half a million in 2009. That’s a staggering shift.

Israel needs to get that fence built quickly. It is a tiny country, about the size of New Jersey. It is abiding by UN standards and the Geneva Convention in accepting refugees, and is already getting swamped. Neighboring countries are not so accepting, so there has been and will continue to be more and more pressure on Israel.

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