UNHCR is concerned at new Amendment to Israel's Law on the Prevention of Infiltration

Briefing Notes, 10 January 2014

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Adrian Edwards to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 10 January 2014, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

UNHCR has raised concerns this week with the Government of Israel over a recent Amendment to Israel's Anti-infiltration law that was passed by the Knesset in mid-December and further limits the rights of asylum-seekers.

Israel currently hosts approximately 53,000 refugees and asylum-seekers, the majority being from Eritrea (36,000) and Sudan (14,000). Until now, people in need of asylum have been provided with a form of temporary protection, renewable by applying periodically for the extension of so-called conditional release visas.

UNHCR is concerned that one of the provisions of the new Amendment requires asylum-seekers to reside in the so-called open residence facility located in the desert of Negev with serious restrictions on their freedom of movement with mandatory residence, a three-times-per-day reporting requirement and other discipline measures. Since Holot facility is housing people who cannot be returned to their countries of origin for reasons of non-refoulement, the organization is concerned that this facility could, in effect, result in indefinite detention, with no release grounds.

Under the latest Amendment, new asylum-seekers arriving in an irregular manner will automatically be detained for at least a year, as will people whose conditional release visas have expired. Difficulties in renewing visas are meanwhile growing, with renewal possible in four cities and for a few hours each week. Long queues have been reported in some of these locations.

UNHCR understands the challenges faced by Israel in managing the reception of migrants and asylum-seekers. However, it is important that the treatment of asylum-seekers be in line with international refugee and human rights law. All asylum-seekers should have access to fair and efficient asylum procedures, as well as efficient means to renew their existing visas.

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