Yesterday, 10 June 2012, marked the 35th anniversary of the rescue by an Israeli ship (the freighter Yuvali) of 66 Vietnamese boat people in the South China Sea. After neighboring countries, including Hong Kong and Taiwan, refused to permit the disembarkation of the rescued Vietnamese, the Israeli government agreed to allow the 66 Vietnamese to be transported to and resettled in Israel. While I have not confirmed this, an Associated Press report at the time of the event quoted an Israeli Interior Ministry official as saying that this was the first time that Israel had permitted non-Jewish refugees to settle in Israel. The humanitarian decision taken 35 years ago stands in stark contrast to the asylum and migration laws that are now to be enforced in Israel.
Israeli Interior Minister Eli Yishai announced last week that the revised Prevention of Infiltration Law will begin being enforced. The Infiltration Law allows the arrest and detention of irregular border crossers, including asylum seekers. The Israeli Defence Ministry also announced last week that five new detention centres are under construction and when completed will consist of 20,000 to 25,000 tents. “The objective of the plan, according to the [Defence] ministry, is to ensure that all African migrants who enter Israel will be directly transferred to a detention center where they will stay for long periods of time, in order to prevent their entry to Israeli cities.”
Human Rights Watch issued a statement on 10 June calling on the Israeli government to refrain from enforcing the law until its provisions are amended to comply with Israel’s international legal obligations: “On January 10  the Knesset amended the 1954 Prevention of Infiltration Law to define all irregular border-crossers as ‘infiltrators.’ The law permits Israeli authorities to detain all irregular border-crossers, including asylum seekers and their children, for three years or more before their deportation. The law also allows officials to detain some people indefinitely, even if border control officials recognize they might face persecution if returned to their country. [***] The government and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimate that since 2005, around 60,000 Africans have entered Israel somewhere along the 240-kilometer border with Egypt after passing through the Sinai desert. Many of the migrants and asylum seekers fall victim to abusive human traffickers en route to Israel, particularly in the Sinai. [***] Israel is building a fence along the border to prevent irregular crossings and expanding a detention facility for irregular border-crossers from 2,000 beds to around 5,400, according to Israeli refugee rights groups….”
Click here for HRW Statement.