Thousands of African migrants demanding to be recognized as refugees protested Wednesday outside of the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, after staging demonstrations this week in Tel Aviv.
Parliament speaker Yuli Edelstein barred their entry into the parliament building, fearing that their presence in parliament could provoke violence, said Edelstein’s spokesman Eran Sidis.
“These protesters are actually coming to demonstrate against Israeli laws and they are not acting according to Israeli laws. We cannot turn the parliament into a joke,” lawmaker Miri Regev told Israel Radio.
In recent years Israel like many other developed countries has been experiencing an influx of individuals – mostly from Eritrea and Sudan – who entered Israel unlawfully by crossing the Israeli-Egyptian border.
The migrants say they are refugees who have fled strife in their home countries. Israel sees many of them as economic migrants and has tried a number of tactics to stop the migrants’ influx or keep their numbers down. It has built a fence along the border with Egypt, passed a law that allows for the migrants’ detention and offered financial incentives to urge them to leave.
Some have since returned voluntarily to their country of origin, bringing their current number to 53,600. The sheer numbers and the range of issues raised present a significant challenge for the economic and social services of Israel – whose population is 8 million.
Many Israelis fear that the migrants’ presence threatens the Jewish character of their country, and some blame them for rising crime rates in the low-income Tel Aviv neighbourhoods where many have settled.
Israel says that its situation is much more complex than that of other developed countries. “Israel is the only developed country with a land border with Africa, which makes it comparatively more accessible for those who wish to enter. Moreover, due to Israel’s unique geostrategic situation and the current political instability surrounding its borders, it becomes practically impossible to develop regional cooperative solutions with countries of origin and transit, as is done by other developed countries, such as European countries and the US,” the government said.
The government says it is trying to balance the need to control its borders with the need to protect the human rights of those who enter.
Due to its adherence to International law, Israel granted protection to approximately 60,000 people without the need to prove prima facie that they have an individual claim to stay in Israel. Those individuals amount to approximately 95% of all individuals that entered Israel illegally through its southern border.
The Population and Immigration Authority, through its RSD (Refugee Status Determination) unit, has been examining hundreds of demands for asylum, in coordination with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, which has provided training for the RSD personnel.
“All applications are given thorough treatment, with priority given to those submitted by migrants staying in the Saharonim and Holot facilities,” the government says.
“The examination is carried out in accordance with Israel’s international legal obligations, based on the UN Refugee Convention (1951). Enforcement is carried out under Israeli law and in conformity with Supreme Court rulings.”