How Israel Self-Sabotaged the Refugee Status Determination Process

As an asylum seeker, I fled from a tyrant dictatorship dreaming to be secure, to get a small shred of dignity and to be protected from physical and mental abuse. That is why when I entered Israel through the Sinai border I asked to be registered by the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) to ask for asylum.

After a couple of weeks of homelessness and destitution in south Tel Aviv, I was given a visa permitting me to work for six months in Be’er Sheva, but this is the first and last six-month visa I was granted. When I asked the Ministry of Interior (MOI) to be granted asylum as an individual person, they told me all asylum seekers in Israel — especially people from Eritrea and Sudan — receive group protection. I was refused the right to fill my individual asylum application. Everyone who asked this question received the same answer. After the government finally permitted us to fill our individual asylum applications in 2013, I filled my request and attended an individual interview as the law dictates.

Volunteers help asylum seekers to fill out their Refugee Status Determination application forms in English and Hebrew
Volunteers help asylum seekers to fill out their Refugee Status Determination application forms in English and Hebrew

After this, I waited more than three years without any answer. Thousands of other people remain in limbo just like me.

It’s not acceptable to get this kind of treatment in a country that signed and ratified the 1951 Refugee Convention and claims to respect the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This action is not just a violation of my individual rights but also a violation of the moral rights of basic human needs.

In addition, despite being officially registered as an asylum seeker, I must renew my visa every two months, sometimes even two weeks, waiting in line for hours at a time. I asked countless times for a decision regarding my asylum claim, but each time they tell me it’s in process.

Until when is the process? Already three years have passed. If my application is processing, what about the thousands of people who filled their application before me? Since the MOI began processing requests from the approximately 40,000 Eritrean and Sudanese asylum seekers in Israel, less than ten people have been accepted as refugees. The last time Israel recognized an asylum seeker as a refugee was a year ago in 2016. It is a shame to see and hear that from Israel.

Many countries in the world recognize asylum seekers from Eritrea and Sudan as refugees at some of the highest rates due to the ongoing crimes committed by our own governments. In contrast, instead of individual protection in Israel, asylum seekers are treated like aliens from a different planet.

Thousands of people have submitted their Refugee Status Determination (RSD) applications to request asylum, but the MOI’s policies block them from submitting their applications on time. Most often they are told to come back before the expiration date of their temporary visa. When they come back at the exact time of this expiration date, these same people are then told by the officials that their capacity is full and they must try again next time. To be permitted entry through the front door, a person must be a part of the first “hundred people” waiting in line that morning – a quota set by the MOI based on their alleged total capacity per day. Because of the flood of people coming to submit their RSD forms, an asylum seeker must wait in line from the night before. Their only choice is to return home again without any hope just to try to submit their RSD application form again.

Asylum seekers sleeping overnight in front of the Ministry of Interior office June 25 2017
Asylum seekers sleeping overnight in front of the Ministry of Interior office June 25, 2017

In reality, the Israeli government is blocking asylum seekers from submitting their RSD applications with many different methods. If these individuals are blocked from submitting their RSD claim, how can the government label them as migrant workers or infiltrators?

I believe that the Jewish people are our witness in the fight for freedom and personal protection. No one can tell the story of being unwanted, unprotected, unsafe and marginalized by others more than the Jewish people. So, if the Jewish people have more experience in being rejected, why do they repeat the same story to those who are marginalized, enslaved, killed, and persecuted by their own tyrant regimes?

I’m not against Israel at all; in fact, I’m pro-Israel. That’s why I’m asking for my asylum in the country I admire as a role model. I don’t want to represent or promote a bad image of for the future generations. To the contrary, I want my picture to be a good example and an honor for the coming new generation of the country by showing them that the government of Israel protected and gave refugee status to desperate asylum seekers.

About the Author
Teklit Michael is an activist and community organizer from Eritrea, as well as an educator in his church. Michael also spent over a decade as an asylum seeker in Israel with no legal status, where he spearheaded numerous community outreach initiatives, worked with several human rights organizations in pursuit of social justice for his community.
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