The United Nations Refugee Agency has condemned Israel’s policy on African migrants and an open residence facility for “warehousing” asylum seekers, in a statement released on Sunday.
UNHCR representative Walpurga Englbrecht expressed support for thousands of asylum seekers who held a protest on Sunday in Tel Aviv‘s Rabin Square.
The release was titled “Israel’s new laws and policies do not live up to the Spirit of the 1951 Refugee Convention.”
The agency said that in principle it supports establishing a residence facility for asylum seekers, but not in its current incarnation at Holot.
Englbrecht said in the statement: “I am particularly disquieted about the purpose of the so-called ‘open’ residence facility in Holot which, in its current form and despite its designation as ‘open,’ would appear to operate as a detention center from where there is no release. This means in effect indefinite detention.”
In wake of Sunday’s protest and calls for a general labor strike on the part of the refugees, Tel Aviv’s Mayor Ron Huldai commented on the issue, saying “it is my feeling that today’s protest was just the beginning of a long process which I fear could end in violence.
“The protest stems from true hardship caused by the government ignoring the issues that migrants and Tel Aviv residents face.”
The U.N. also criticized Israel’s policy, saying that “The current policy and practices create fear and chaos amongst asylum-seekers, not taking into account their specific situation.
“’Warehousing’ refugees in Holot is not a solution in line with the 1951 Refugee Convention,” the UNHCR said in its statement, appealing the government to consider implementing a more “humane and dignified solution.”
According to the UNHCR, “asylum-seekers are being labeled as ‘infiltrators,’ illegal work infiltrators or economic migrants without necessarily taking into account the reasons of why they had to flee from their country of origin.”
The U.N. body stressed that “while it is correct that not every asylum-seeker is indeed a refugee, in light of their countries of origin, the majority are either refugees in the sense of the 1951 Refugee Convention or, at the very least, in need of international protection and cannot be returned to their home country.”
The body further criticized Israel for failing to allow the Africans proper access to “refugee status determination (RSD), irrespective of the location of their residence in Israel. At this stage, only a small number have gone through the RSD process while the majority – particularly Eritreans and Sudanese outside detention – were granted an imperfect form of temporary protection.
“It is important to note that asylum-seekers from Eritrea and Sudan show high recognition rates in other countries (in Europe, the recognition rates are more than 70%),” the statement added.
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