In 1951, in response to the Holocaust and WWII, the Refugee Rights Convention was drafted. About Refugees and Asylum Seekers in Israel. A refugee was characterized by three fundamental features. First, he is outside of his country of origin, or, outside of his country where he formally resided. Second, he is unwilling or unable to benefit from any protection in his country due to a well-founded fear of being persecuted. Third, the type of persecution feared by the refugee is based on either: race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion. Definition of a Refugee. The Convention not only defined who was entitled to refugee status, but also laid out specific rights guaranteed to refugees by signatory countries. The most paramount right included in the Convention is Article 33, which states that a refugee shall not be returned to the country where he fears persecution. Other rights include the right to work, the right to education, the right to public relief and assistance, and the right to move freely within the territory. Signing Could Make All the Difference.
In 1954, Israel signed the Refugee Rights Convention. About Refugees and Asylum Seekers in Israel. As a signatory, Israel is to abide by the rights guaranteed to refugees in the Convention. While refugees over the past several years have been escaping African countries and entering Israel, there are reports that Israel is not abiding by the international law set forth in the Refugee Rights Convention. Israel Making Inroads in Halting African Migration. Many refugees are coming from Eritrea, Darfur, and Sudan, fleeing from “slavery, torture, religious and political persecution and the danger of ethnically-motivated murder.” About Refugees and Asylum Seekers in Israel. The article further states:
Eritrea has long been known as a country where grave violations of human rights take place: religious and political persecution, disappearances of citizens and use of torture by the government. The asylum seekers from Sudan include survivors from the Darfur region who have escaped continuous persecution and mass murder of civilian populations perpetrated by the government and armed militia groups. Other refugees come from Southern Sudan, a region brutally repressed by the Islamic regime in Khartoum, mainly on the basis of religious persecution. In much smaller numbers, refugees come to Israel from other countries known for human rights abuses such as Democratic Republic of Congo, Myanmar and Colombia.
The Las Vegas Sun reports that Israel has joined forces with Egypt to stop refugees at the border, and that Israel has also been constructing a fence along their Egyptian border. Las Vegas Sun. (Egypt signed the Refugee Rights Convention in 1981. Parties to the 1951 Convention.) The Las Vegas Sun also reports that migrants are being detained, and the main detention center in southern Israel had its capacity tripled so that more migrants could be held there; advocates for the African migrants said they were denied access to Africans in Israeli custody. Las Vegas Sun. Perhaps the most serious allegation the article proposes is that Israel is not accepting the migrants; instead, Israel is calling Egyptian security to take the migrants to Egypt. Las Vegas Sun. More atrociously, according to The Jacob Blaustein Institute for the Advancement of Human Rights, African migrants are
…being asked to sign documents stating they agree to leave Israel “voluntarily” and return to South Sudan. Approximately 300 individuals have reportedly signed the “voluntary” return document as of June 13 . News reports further indicate that these persons are told that if they do not sign the “voluntary” return document, they will not be allowed to collect their belongings and will remain in custody.
Israel’s position is that most of the African migrants are not refugees, rather they are seeking work. Danny Danon, a member of the Likud Party and a lawmaker who is working towards expelling illegal migrants, said “there is an understanding that while we’re a Jewish state sensitive to refugees, we cannot become a safe haven for hundreds of thousands of Africans who want to improve their quality of life.” Las Vegas Sun.
The article poses a question about a quarter of the way through: “…whether Israel’s role as a sanctuary for Jews after the Holocaust obligates it to open its doors to others escaping misery and persecution.” Las Vegas Sun
I think the fact that the Refugee Rights Convention was implemented following the Holocaust, and that Israel signed the Convention three years after the Convention’s inception- only six years after Israel became a recognized state- demonstrates not only the importance of the Convention, but the Convention’s importance to Israel. Of all the countries who might violate international refugee law, wouldn’t one think that Israel would be last on the list, given their previous situation and the situation now facing many men, women, and children who are fleeing similar persecution in Sudan?
On the other side, should international law be different for a religious country like Israel, who needs to look after their own population in light of past, present, and potentially future attacks on their own citizens? Should Israel be an exception to international refugee law in light of Israel’s religious nature and Israel’s need to worry about “their” people?