by Violeta Santos Moura

 After fleeing their war torn countries, genocide and repressive regimes, many of the estimated 45,000 African asylum seekers in Israel face formidable resistance from state institutions and are stuck in a legal limbo since the day they arrived.


Mostly coming from Eritrea and Sudan, they hoped to obtain asylum in Israel in greater numbers than in previous years after turmoil and war in Libya in 2011 made the route through there to Europe nearly impossible and thus increasingly pushed them into Israel in bigger numbers than before.


Sudanese asylum seekers escaped genocide and ethnic cleansing perpetrated by the Arab Khartoum regime against African non-Arab tribes in Darfur (Western Sudan), the Nuba Mountains and the Blue Nile region (Southern Sudan). In Eritrea, for its part, army service is mandatory and most end up trapped in forced labor, performing non military related slave like work for an indefinite amount of time that can last up to decades. This is the reason thousands flee the country every year. Attempts to flee are met with a shoot to kill policy by Eritrean border guards.


Despite this, African asylum seekers in Israel remain stuck in a legal limbo, unrecognized as legitimate asylum applicants by state institutions and face widespread social stigma. The vast majority of asylum seekers thus live in constant fear of detention in Israel and under pressure to be "voluntarily" deported. The Israeli government and right wing establishment argues they are economic migrants and so do not need asylum.


According to Israeli NGO Right Now: Advocates for Asylum Seekers in Israel, "Israel groups asylum seekers from Eritrea and Sudan under a policy of "temporary collective protection. By utilizing this policy, the government of Israel acknowledges the danger in these two countries and does not deport asylum seekers to their countries of origin. Asylum seekers are given deferred deportation orders, which render their collective stay in Israel legal”. This documentation, however, does not allow them access to formal work permits, health care or welfare services unless they are granted official refugee status by the Israeli government. Asylum seekers are thus “stuck in a legal limbo; while being allowed to remain in the country, they lack access to basic services in order to survive, advance, and integrate".