Israel And International Refugee Law: Should Israel Be More Accepting Of Refugees, Or Should Israel Be Exempt?

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.

About Refugees and Asylum Seekers in Israel


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 [2012]. 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.

Background Document: African Asylum Seekers and Migrants in Israel.


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.


My issue:

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?


  1. Israel is an exceptional example of a country on many different levels. The physical state was literally carved out of existing states after WWII. It was created as a safe haven for the Jewish people after one of, and perhaps THE, worst atrocities/genocides in history. Saying that, the Refugee Rights Convention was created as a response to a post-Holocaust world. While most signatories would have hoped that humanitarian crises of that level would have never again occurred, unfortunately that has not been the case.The author of the article specifically points to Eritrea and the Sudan; two areas of Africa where persecution for religion, social group and ethnicity occur daily and have been continuing for years.
    For Israel to disregard the convention, block entrance to the country by building a fence, and claim the refugees are “just seeking work” is unbelievable. (The comparison to the U.S./Mexico situation should not be lost in this either). If Israel disregards its responsibilities under the convention, arguably the most important party, why should other nations have to follow it? I understand Israel’s special status as a people and also a nation. I also understand their history and the persecution they still face in light of border disputes and religious conflicts. However, that special status should not mean they get a pass in international affairs. If they worry about only “their” people, where does that leave the rest of the world? They should be the leader, not the exception, and recognize peoples in need.

  2. @Andrew. From what states Israel was carved? the only state that was there for the last 500 years was Ottoman empire.
    If Israel is obliged to receive Africans crossing from Sinai, so does Germany and other European countries should accept refugees crossing through Italy. Good luck with that.

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