While Israel continues to struggle with the problem of some 50,000 illegal migrants from Africa, almost 22,000 asylum seekers from Ukraine and Georgia have been added to the files of the Interior Ministry over the past two years, according to The Times of Israel.
Entering the country as tourists, they then apply to stay on as refugees, claiming that it’s too dangerous to return home, due to fighting in Ukraine or a political turmoil in Georgia.
A new report from the nonprofit Hotline for Refuges and Migrants says that these “refugees” are being funneled into the country by shady outfits that charge people in Ukraine and Georgia thousands of dollars for so-called “work opportunities” in Israel.
These companies advertise “tourist” packages ranging from $800 to $1,200. They coach the migrants in how to convert a three-month tourist visa into a bid for permanent asylum.
The companies also make fraudulent promises about the ease of obtaining refugee status, which they say will quickly enable migrants to get work permits, jobs that pay upwards of $4,000 per month and an array of free social services like health care.
Once in Israel, they discover the truth, which is that it takes years to process applications for refugee status. In the meantime, those who are authentic asylum seekers and fear to return home often become desperate for work and fall prey to unscrupulous businessmen from their home countries who sell them phony work visas.
Eventually, they may find out that, to date, Israel has granted asylum status to zero applicants from Ukraine and Georgia.
The Population Immigration and Border Administration reports that over the last three years, Ukrainians and Georgians submitted 21,691 asylum applications, accounting for the vast majority of asylum applications during that time.
On October 15, the Population, Immigration, and Border Authority announced that it would “summarily reject” asylum applications from Ukrainians, except from the two separatist-controlled regions of Donetsk and Luhansk in eastern Ukraine, where fighting is heaviest. Prior to that, the Interior Ministry determined that it would not consider applications from Georgians because they are not in danger.
“The vast majority of [Ukrainian] asylum seekers are those who desire to ‘formalize’ their stay in Israel and receive a temporary permit, which enables them to work in Israel because Israel has a non-enforcement policy while asylum applications are being considered,” the Population Authority said in a statement.
“This phenomenon has created a great burden on the entire system and especially the refugee status determination unit, extending the processing of asylum requests and preventing the unit from handling authentic asylum requests.”
Meanwhile, exploitation is rampant. Hotline has documented cases where people who came to Israel looking for asylum were trapped into working in slave-like conditions, 12-15 hours per day in a factory. The workers were forbidden from leaving the factory and only paid NIS 2,000 ($600) for a month’s work.
In that case, when authorities made a surprise inspection of the factory and found workers with forged documents, they deported them immediately.