More than 10,000 requests for refugee status by illegal immigrants in Israel are awaiting a response from the state, but the government committee that is supposed to decide on the merits of these requests has not met for over six months. Last June, Avi Himi, the chairman of the Interior Ministry’s Advisory Committee for Refugee Affairs, resigned, and he has yet to be replaced. Speaking in an interview, Interior Minister Rabbi Aryeh Deri promised to give the matter his “full attention.”
Under international law, Israel, like all other countries, is required to provide political asylum to refugees who cannot return to their native countries because of risk to their lives. There are tens of thousands of refugees in Israel from Africa, with most of them claiming political refugee status – while the government contends that most of them are economic refugees who came to Israel seeking work, and are not eligible to remain as refugees. It’s the job of the Advisory Committee to make that determination, but without a chairman the committee cannot convene.
But according to human rights groups, even when the committee did meet it did not properly fulfill its mandate. According to the most recent figures available, for the period between 2009 and June 2015, over 17,000 requests for refugee status were filed – but only 45 were granted. The information was presented by the state in a response to a lawsuit filed by groups in the High Court.
In a recent interview, outgoing Interior Minister Silvan Shalom promised that securing a chairman for the group and plowing through the backlogged cases would be a top priority. Speaking in an interview on Israel Radio Tuesday, newly-installed Interior Minister Rabbi Aryeh Deri said that dealing with refugees, legal and otherwise, would be a top priority for him as he prepares a list of outstanding projects that need to be dealt with.