Refugees in Israel

General Info

General info about asylum seekers in Israel

  • About 28,000

    Adult asylum seekers live in Israel

  • 91%

    From Sudan and Eritrea

  • About 8,000

    Children of asylum seekers, most of whom were born in Israel

According to data from the Population and Immigration Authority, there are currently about 28,000 asylum seekers living in Israel, mainly from Eritrea and Sudan (about 21,000 from Eritrea and about 6,000 from Sudan). In addition, according to estimates, about 8,000 children of asylum seekers are growing up in Israel, the majority of whom were born in Israel.

Asylum seekers fled brutal dictatorships, wars, genocide, and other atrocities, forcing them to leave their homes and homelands. About 4,000 of them are survivors of the Sinai torture camps and carry the scars of cruel torture on their bodies and in their minds.

Their living in Israel is regulated under a government policy of temporary protection – and the State of Israel recognizes the danger to their lives if they return to their countries of origin.

Although most of the asylum seekers have been in Israel since 2006-2007, and despite the official recognition of the danger they face if they return to their homelands, Israel denies them recognition and status as refugees. Thousands of asylum applications that have been submitted have not been processed, and some have been on hold for many years. In addition, compared to the high rates of recognition of asylum seekers from Eritrea and Sudan as refugees around the world (Eritreans +/- 90%, Sudanese +/- 60%), the percentage of recognition of refugees in Israel is very low – and stands at less than ½%.

This long-standing government policy regarding asylum seekers has left them in a state of limbo – on the one hand Israel recognizes that it cannot deport asylum seekers, but at the same time it deprives them of services such as social security benefits, health insurance and other social services, thereby denying them their human rights.

Countries of origin

Most of the asylum seekers in Israel arrived from Eritrea and Sudan, however there are a few who came from other countries in Africa and other parts of the world, seeking protection from a political or personal opression, such as gender and sexual orientation

Eritrea

Eritrea is a country in East Africa with a population of about six million. Despite its small population, the difficult living conditions in Eritrea make it one of the largest exporters of refugees in the world, and it is estimated that about 10% to 25% of its population have fled and live abroad.

Eritrea is a country in East Africa with a population of about six million. Despite its small population, the difficult living conditions in Eritrea make it one of the largest exporters of refugees in the world, and it is estimated that about 10% to 25% of its population have fled and live abroad.

Eritrea is considered one of the most repressive dictatorships in the world. It has a one-party regime led by dictator Isaias Afwerki,  no free elections and no freedom of the press. The country has mandatory conscription to the army for the entire population – the date of discharge from military service is unknown, and military service often lasts many years. Military service includes forced labor, and there are evidence of sexual assault, slavery, and arbitrary punishment during military service. Any attempt to oppose the government and the military, and any attempt to escape the country, is met with imprisonment for an unknown duration – and even torture.

Eritrea denies its residents fundamental human rights and freedoms, including political rights, freedom of expression and movement. The government imprisons and harasses journalists who criticize it – including foreign journalists – and restricts the entry of humanitarian and human rights organizations into the country.

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Sudan

Sudan, located in Northeast Africa, is the third largest country on the continent, and one of the poorest countries in the world. It was liberated from British occupation in 1956, and during the first decades of its existence has suffered many revolutions and internal conflicts. In 1989 General Omar al-Bashir led a military coup, appointed himself president, and ruled Sudan for 30 years until 2019.
Al-Bashir's dictatorial rule was particularly cruel, and for years he pursued opponents of his regime. Demonstrations in the country often ended in the killing of protesters, mass arrests, and torture, carried out by the security forces with complete immunity.

Sudan, located in Northeast Africa, is the third largest country on the continent, and one of the poorest countries in the world. It was liberated from British occupation in 1956, and during the first decades of its existence has suffered many revolutions and internal conflicts. In 1989 General Omar al-Bashir led a military coup, appointed himself president, and ruled Sudan for 30 years until 2019.

Al-Bashir’s dictatorial rule was particularly cruel, and for years he pursued opponents of his regime. Demonstrations in the country often ended in the killing of protesters, mass arrests, and torture, carried out by the security forces with complete immunity.

Al-Bashir’s rule carried out ethnic cleansing of the country’s non-Arab population – in the Darfur region, the Nubia Mountains, and the Blue Nile. In the Darfur region, about half a million people were murdered and about 3 million more were displaced from their homes. Al-Bashir is accused in The Hague of genocide and crimes against humanity, and after being ousted from power was tried and convicted of corruption.

Following the overthrow of al-Bashir, the military seized power in Sudan, and a civilian-military transitional government was formed ahead of elections scheduled for November 2022. Despite the change of government, evidence of violent incidents and the displacement of thousands from their homes continues to mount.

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Asylum Seekers during the Covid-19 Pandemic

Asylum Seekers during the Covid-19 Pandemic

As one of the most isolated and vulnerable groups in Israeli society, asylum seekers were among the first to be affected by the Covid-19 pandemic and the economic crisis that followed. Without any social or health support networks in place, the pandemic, and the resulting massive layoffs, have endangered the welfare and personal safety of asylum seekers. About 80% of asylum seekers found themselves without a job. Those who lost their livelihoods were left without health insurance, unemployment benefits, and severance pay. Excluded from Social Security assistance and benefits, they and their families were left without any source of income – and found themselves in a severe crisis.

The ramifications became apparent immediately after the first lockdown in March 2020 and worsened as the pandemic continued: asylum seekers who did not previously need assistance from ASSAF began arriving at our offices requesting food. More and more women arrived with their young children requesting assistance with basic products – baby formula, diapers and medications. We received referrals regarding difficulties in paying rent, and with it the increased possibility of being thrown out onto the street with the children, and the resulting mental distress. Some families found solutions in the form of crowding 4 or 5 people into a room in an apartment with another family or sleeping on the floor of the kindergarten. Parents reported that they could no longer pay for their children’s health insurance – and were forced to leave them without health care.

At ASSAF we did not halt our assistance to asylum seekers during the entire period, including the lockdowns, and we continued to operate without interruption, in accordance with the directives of the Ministry of Health. We also worked to bridge language gaps and make up-to-date information and updates regarding the virus, protection against it, isolation arrangements, tests, vaccines, and guidelines related to the educational system available to the community.

The Covid-19 crisis exposed the damage that the continued government policy has caused, and continues to cause, to refugees and asylum seekers in Israel. After many years with no status and social rights, the outbreak of Covid-19 and the closing of the economy brought the community to the brink of humanitarian crisis. Despite the gradual re-opening of the economy starting March 2021, many asylum seekers are still finding it difficult to overcome the severe economic hardship created during the last year, making it clear that the Covid-19 pandemic will continue to affect us. It is estimated that many asylum seekers will continue to suffer from the effects of the crisis for many more months.

Reports

Staring into the Abyss - Asylum Seekers in Israel During COVID-19 October 2021

The Asylum System in Israel

The Asylum System in Israel

  • More than 15,000

    Asylum requests pending

  • Less than 0.5%

    Asylum requests accepted

  • About 70%

    Percentage of Asylum acceptance in Europe

Israel recognizes the mortal danger asylum seekers face if they return to their countries of origin, and does not deport them back. Their residence in Israel is legal and regulated under a government policy of non-refoulment to Eritrea and Sudan. They hold a 2A5 visa which they must renew every six months or yearly.

There have been attempts in the past to deport asylum seekers. In 2012 Israel deported asylum seekers from South Sudan to the South Sudanese state founded about six months earlier. In 2018 Israel tried to deport Eritrean and Sudanese asylum seekers to Rwanda and Uganda. The result was an unprecedented public protest, a widespread legal battle, and extensive media coverage. Since 2018 there have been no more deportation attempts. In October 2020, the United States announced the drafting of an agreement to normalize relations between Israel and Sudan. Following this, calls  began to be heard in Israel demanding the deportation of Sudanese asylum seekers back to Sudan, but in January 2021, the then Director General of the Immigration and Population Authority clarified that deportation was not on the agenda.

 

Read more about our fight against deportations

 

Although asylum seekers have been in Israel for nearly 15 years, and despite the recognition of the danger they face if they return to their countries, Israel prevents them from being recognized as refugees, and does not review the asylum applications that they submit. As of May 2019, more than 15,000 Eritrean and Sudanese asylum applications are pending review, some of which have been waiting for a decision for many years.

The few asylum applications that have been reviewed are processed according to the 2011 Ministry of Interior’s procedure for asylum seekers in Israel. The applications are processed at the Refugee Status Determination (RSD) division of the Population and Immigration Authority – which decides whether to reject the application quickly or transfer the treatment to an inter-ministerial refugee advisory committee. Subsequently, the committee’s recommendations are forwarded to the Minister of Interior for a decision.

In other parts of the world, most asylum seekers from Eritrea and Sudan are recognized as refugees. In contrast, the percentage of refugees recognized in Israel is extremely low – to date only 18 Eritrean asylum applications and 1 Sudanese application have been approved (less than half a percent). 600 Sudanese from Darfur received refugee status (A/5) by virtue of the Interior Minister’s 2007 decision, without examining their applications, and several hundred Sudanese asylum seekers from Darfur, Nubia and the Blue Nile have received temporary residency status (A/5) for humanitarian reasons which grants them a work visa, health insurance and access to welfare services – without Israel examining their asylum applications. Today, about 1,000 asylum seekers from Sudan live in Israel with a temporary residence visa.

In Europe about 70% of Eritrean asylum seekers are recognized as refugees. Adding the number of Eritreans who receive supplementary protection (which includes health and welfare services, social security, work permits and assistance in occupational and language training), the total is about 90%. The percentage of asylum seekers from Sudan recognized in Europe is about 50%. Adding the number of Sudanese who receive supplementary protection, the total is about 60%.

In April 2021, the Supreme Court ruled that by the end of the year 2021 Israel must make a decision regarding approximately 2,500 people from Darfur, the Nubia Mountains and the Blue Nile, who submitted their asylum application before 11.6.2017. If this is not done, or an overall policy is formulated regarding these same asylum seekers, they will automatically be granted temporary resident status (A/5). In the ruling, the judges refer to the State’s dragging its feet in resolving asylum applications, “Not only is there no orderly policy regarding the handling of applications […] the few decisions made regarding asylum seekers create a sense of randomness and arbitrariness which deepens the sense of frustration and hurt following the delay in the matter of Darfurians. “

Israel’s immigration policy over the past 15 years has left asylum seekers in a state of limbo – on the one hand Israel recognizes that it cannot deport refugees to Eritrea and Sudan, but on the other hand it does not grant asylum seekers basic rights such as health insurance and social services.

Welfare & Health

Welfare & Health

  • No

    National health insurance

  • No

    Funds and pensions

  • No

    Social welfare services

About 30,000 adult asylum seekers currently live in Israel, mainly from Eritrea and Sudan. They live in uncertainty about their future, without official status and recognition and without any health and social welfare safety nets. There are vulnerable groups among them who need support and assistance in order to survive: single mothers, abused women, families at risk, survivors of torture and human trafficking, people who engage in survival sex, people with physical disabilities, the chronically ill and the mentally handicapped.

The State of Israel, despite the international treaties it signed, does not grant basic rights to asylum seekers, leaving them without support and without access to health and welfare services.

Welfare

In most cases, asylum seekers living in Israel are not entitled to Social Security benefits and allowances, even though they are one of the weakest and poorest communities in the country. Following the 2014 State Comptroller's report, and a petition we submitted to the High Court of Justice, welfare services in outpatient units for various groups of asylum seekers in emergency situations have been expanded in recent years – including victims of domestic violence, the disabled, the homeless, and victims of trafficking. However, access to these services remains very limited for asylum seekers. Sometimes it is not possible to take advantage of the few services that seem to be available due to various obstacles, such as the lack of health insurance. Apart from victims of domestic violence, asylum seekers are not entitled to welfare benefits, which impairs the ability of the most vulnerable to rehabilitate, reduce the support they need and lead an independent life as much as possible. In practice, most  asylum seekers in need of welfare and social services receive them from aid organizations.

In most cases, asylum seekers living in Israel are not entitled to Social Security benefits and allowances, even though they are one of the weakest and poorest communities in the country. Following the 2014 State Comptroller’s report, and a petition we submitted to the High Court of Justice, welfare services in outpatient units for various groups of asylum seekers in emergency situations have been expanded in recent years – including victims of domestic violence, the disabled, the homeless, and victims of trafficking. However, access to these services remains very limited for asylum seekers. Sometimes it is not possible to take advantage of the few services that seem to be available due to various obstacles, such as the lack of health insurance. Apart from victims of domestic violence, asylum seekers are not entitled to welfare benefits, which impairs the ability of the most vulnerable to rehabilitate, reduce the support they need and lead an independent life as much as possible. In practice, most  asylum seekers in need of welfare and social services receive them from aid organizations.

In July 2021 the US State Department’s annual Trafficking in Persons Report was published, stating that Israel had been downgraded to Tier 2. Among the issues raised in the report was the fact that Israel does not review asylum applications, including those of potential victims of trafficking, leaving them without access to social rights, and resulting in their exposure to human trafficking. The report also states that the economic situation among women asylum seekers, especially from Eritrea, greatly increase their susceptibility to sex trafficking, with about 400 asylum seekers before the Covid-19 pandemic forced to engage in survival sex. According to Israeli government estimates, that number tripled in 2020.

The Covid-19 pandemic and the resulting economic crisis have led to an 80% increase in the number of applications for assistance that we have received. This is due to the massive layoffs and unpaid leave brought about by the pandemic. People who managed to support their families, albeit with difficulty, have joined those in need of welfare and housing assistance – that the State does not provide. Unlike Israelis or workers on unpaid leave, the asylum seekers who have been fired are not entitled to unemployment benefits or severance pay. The Covid-19 crisis has demonstrated how problematic the policies of the last 15 years are, resulting in an entire community without official status and social rights. The asylum seeking community is on the brink of a humanitarian crisis, which is also reflected in an increasing number of homeless people, high rates of food insecurity, and women being forced into prostitution. Many asylum seekers still find it difficult to recover from the severe economic hardship created by the Corona period, and the crisis is still evident in many families.

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Health

Israel does not apply the National Health Insurance Law to asylum seekers. As a result, they have no access to public health services except in an life endangering emergency. In order to receive treatment, asylum seekers have to wait for their condition to deteriorate, since only then they receive treatment in a hospital emergency room. Once their condition stabilizes, they are released to their homes without further treatment, follow-up or medication. In the absence of any other solutions, most of them accumulate debts to hospitals for treatments provided. Even private health insurances, which are dependent on employment, do not provide a satisfactory answer to the health needs of asylum seekers, since they fall in the category of  "previous existing medical conditions" and the policies are cancelled upon termination of employment or due to serious illness.

Israel does not apply the National Health Insurance Law to asylum seekers. As a result, they have no access to public health services except in an life endangering emergency. In order to receive treatment, asylum seekers have to wait for their condition to deteriorate, since only then they receive treatment in a hospital emergency room. Once their condition stabilizes, they are released to their homes without further treatment, follow-up or medication. In the absence of any other solutions, most of them accumulate debts to hospitals for treatments provided. Even private health insurances, which are dependent on employment, do not provide a satisfactory answer to the health needs of asylum seekers, since they fall in the category of  “previous existing medical conditions” and the policies are cancelled upon termination of employment or due to serious illness. The Covid-19 crisis, and the massive wave of layoffs that ensued, led to the loss of private insurance policies among asylum seekers, and to the interruption of treatments, leaving many, including chronically ill patients, without community care. Today, about 60% of asylum seekers are uninsured.

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Children of Asylum Seekers

Children and Education

  • About 8,000

    Children of Asylum Seekers live in Israel

  • Most of Them

    Were born in Israel

The asylum seeker community and their children in Israel are particularly vulnerable, and many of their basic rights are violated each day. Like their parents, the children of asylum seekers have no official status and are denied many basic rights. Their families face many difficulties as immigrants, as well as discriminatory policies that keep them in the margins of Israel society, socially and economically. Exclusion of asylum-seeker parents from the health and welfare system pushes many families into serious financial situations that put their children at risk. Cultural disparities, the disrupted family unit, post-immigration difficulties, lack of status and hostile government policies also affect children’s emotional state and increase loneliness, alienation, and a sense of not-belonging.

When they reach the age of 18, children of asylum seekers lose the few rights that they had as children: subsidized education, subsidized health insurance and social services in certain situations. They are left without any official status, when all possibilities to be a part of the society that they grew up in and in which they live – including military or national service, subsidized higher education, subsidized professional training and even a driver’s license – are all closed to them.

Since ASSAF was founded, we have been working to promote the rights of children of asylum seekers in the education, health, and welfare systems. We work to exercise rights and make services accessible to this population, and help with cases of rejection, segregation, and discrimination. In recent years we have been involved in the struggle to stop the segregation of children of asylum seekers from Israeli children in the school system, to include all children of asylum seekers in the same education system and to work with them to reduce developmental and educational gaps. We also run a youth club that works with children of asylum seekers aged 12 to 19, many of whom are at risk. The club provides children with a supportive and safe environment in which they feel loved and valued. Beyond activities such as remedial canine therapy, the children get help with homework and a place to eat and play together.

Health

Unlike their parents, children of asylum seekers can be insured in the subsidized health insurance system. However, due to their difficult financial situation, and lack of entitlement to pensions and allowances, many parents are unable to pay the subsidized insurance premiums and insure their children.

Education

According to Israeli law, the children of asylum seekers are entitled to full integration into the education system, just as any child in the country. Most of them are now legally integrated into schools, but in some cases, they continue to encounter bureaucratic difficulties and various obstacles in admission to, and functioning in, the various educational frameworks.

According to Israeli law, the children of asylum seekers are entitled to full integration into the education system, just as any child in the country. Most of them are now legally integrated into schools, but in some cases, they continue to encounter bureaucratic difficulties and various obstacles in admission to, and functioning in, the various educational frameworks.

However, although the children were born in the country and the vast majority study in the state-run educational system since the age of 3, they suffer from severe developmental and learning differences. These gaps are due, among other things, to the years they spent in unofficial early childhood settings (“the babysitters”), to their separation from Israeli children in Tel Aviv and other municipalities, and to living in economic distress, in the shadow of refugee trauma, and on the margins of Israeli society. The educational staff face the many difficulties without any assistance, training, or additional resources.

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Welfare

The State Comptroller's report from May 2013 raised the real danger to minors without status in Israel, and the need to provide them with protection. In December 2013, the Minister of Welfare decided to change the policy that was in place for these children, which stipulated that they would receive treatment only in situations of emergency. In practice, the policy change was implemented in 2014, at first in Tel Aviv only, and from April 2016, all over the country. Under current policy, any child at risk, regardless of their legal status, will be cared for by the social services departments of the local authority in which they reside.

Employment & Workers’ Rights

Employment

Most asylum seekers in Israel hold a Type 2(a)5 residence visa, which is not recognised as an official work permit. In the past, the visa stated that “this temporary license does not constitute a work permit” – however the State agreed in the Supreme Court that it would not enforce the ban on employing asylum seekers, and would not fine the employers. Today, this limitation has been removed from most visas, but in the absence of an official work permit, many employers are still concerned about employing asylum seekers in an official capacity, which could grant them full employee rights. This legal ambiguity has created a favourable situation for the exploitation of asylum seekers.
For the most part, asylum seekers are employed in jobs requiring physical labour, such as cleaning and construction. Israel does not allow asylum seekers to hold driver’s licenses or other professional licenses, and many vocational trainings are closed to them. Asylum seekers can’t even get a permit to ride an electric bicycle or electric scooter – so most of the options for working in other jobs, more profitable and satisfying, aren’t available to them.
In the absence of government support and assistance, they are forced to work for any salary, and have become a cheap and exploitable workforce. Many of them work in daily jobs: waiting every morning at certain locations around the cities to find random work, in the hope that someone will pick them up for a few hours of construction or cleaning work. Payment for these jobs is in cash, without any rights, benefits, or protections that employees are entitled to under the labor laws of the State of Israel.
In May 2017, the “Deposit Fund” law was enacted, intended to make it even more difficult to employ asylum seekers, and to create an economic pressure mechanism to force them to leave Israel. Under the law, asylum seekers were required to deduct 20% of their salary and deposit it in a special deposit account, in addition to another 16% deposited by the employer. Asylum seekers could only access the money in the Deposit Fund when they left Israel. This law severely violated the workers’ rights of asylum seekers, and its effects were socially and economically devastating. It has had a particularly negative impact on women, children and people with disabilities, and since its enactment the humanitarian crisis among asylum seekers has intensified.
In April 2020, as part of a ruling by the Supreme Court in a petition by ASSAF and other human rights organizations against the Deposit Law, the requirement to deduct 20% of the salary of asylum seekers for the Deposit Law was abolished.

Women Asylum Seekers

Women Asylum Seekers in Israel

  • About 5,000

    Women asylum seekers in Israel

  • About 17%

    Of the asylum seeker community are women

  • More than 50%

    Of women asylum seekers are single mothers

About 5,000 women are seeking asylum in Israel – most of them from Eritrea. They fled their homelands due to war or persecution, and many of them survived the Sinai torture camps, where they were raped and severely abused. Women asylum seekers are a minority in the community of asylum seekers, which has a clear male majority. Without official status, a social safety net or representation in the public sphere, they are among the poorest and most vulnerable women in Israel. They live on the margins of society and are at high risk of exploitation and abuse.

Single Mothers

It is estimated that more than half of the mothers seeking asylum are single mothers. In addition to the lack of official status and government support, they provide for, and raise their children, on their own. Single-parent asylum seekers are not entitled to benefits that Israeli single-parent are entitled to - such as alimony, tax benefits, income support benefits, rent assistance, and more. As a result, the single mothers are not entitled to the rights and benefits that Israeli citizens are entitled to, such as state health insurance and social security benefits. They are also excluded from benefits provided to Israeli single-parent families.

It is estimated that more than half of the mothers seeking asylum are single mothers. In addition to the lack of official status and government support, they provide for, and raise their children, on their own. Single-parent asylum seekers are not entitled to benefits that Israeli single-parent are entitled to – such as alimony, tax benefits, income support benefits, rent assistance, and more. As a result, the single mothers are not entitled to the rights and benefits that Israeli citizens are entitled to, such as state health insurance and social security benefits. They are also excluded from benefits provided to Israeli single-parent families.

As a result, single-mothers from the asylum seeking community find themselves in a difficult financial situation and in extreme poverty. They have difficulties paying their rent and health insurance, some are unable to afford public transport for themselves or their children, and some have difficulty providing food their families. They work mainly in low-paying cleaning jobs and many of them share a living space with other people – relatives, couples, other single mothers and men from the community. The housing crisis and the lack of their own safe area, leave them vulnerable to sexual assault at the hands of other tenants in the apartment.

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Victims of Domestic Violence

Poverty, inadequate living conditions, past traumas, changes in family dynamics following immigration, encounters with the people in a new country and cultural gaps - all these significantly increase the stress in asylum seekers' families, and may expose the women and their children to new dangers. Despite the severe distress, asylum seekers find themselves without adequate protection from domestic violence. Until recently, they were not assisted by domestic violence prevention centers, and the only response given to them was emergency protection in shelters for battered women.