Refugees in Israel
General info about asylum seekers in Israel
Adult asylum seekers live in Israel
From Sudan and Eritrea
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
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.
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
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.
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
National health insurance
Funds and pensions
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.
Children of Asylum Seekers
Children and Education
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.
Employment & Workers’ Rights
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
Women asylum seekers in Israel
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.