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International Refugee Day – a time for celebration


International Refugee Day – a time for celebration, a time for struggle

After the 2nd world war and the holocaust, the world's nations signed the Convention for the Protection of Refugees, persecuted on account of their race, political belief etc. Recently, the state of Israel is facing the challenge of implementing this convention. Is Israel already a safe haven?

On Sunday June 20th, refugees in Israel will commemorate International Refugee Day. In Israel, the commemoration will take place under mixed emotions.

On the one hand, UNHCR is very active, pushing the Israeli government forward and solving many individual problems. Israel grants protection to hundreds of refugees and allows thousands to apply for asylum. Refugees are now forming their own organizations, to struggle for their rights and dignity and to help each other.

On the other hand, many obstacles, negligence and indifferent bureaucracy, stand between people fleeing their home-country to save their lives, and their basic rights for protection.

Narrow definitions - The average rate of acceptance of asylum applications in Israel is 1% (Haaretz newspaper). The actual rate is probably higher, but poor compared to the Western world. Are all the other applicants liars? In the UK, more than 30% of the applicants are given refuge, whether through the convention (about 10%) or through other "humanitarian" and "human rights" permits. Some of the rejected applicants in Israel would have been given protection in other countries. This is a matter of life and death!

Working in the dark - The refugee governmental committee is working under one unclear internal procedure. It does not give detailed explanations for rejections. It does not publish open reports nor does it distribute information regarding the asylum procedure.

Asylum seekers in jail - at any given moment, dozens of asylum seekers, in different stages of the process, are kept in jail, sometimes for months! This is a violation of the convention.

Destitution – Asylum seekers are only given the right not to be deported and a permit to work. Many face long arduous bureaucratic procedures.

Sick, handicapped, torture and rape victims are left in their poor state, deprived of any assistance.

Ann (alias) is an asylum seeker from an African country. Her whole family was murdered, father, mother, sisters, brother and his five children. Ann discovered that she carries HIV in Israel during her pregnancy. Her daughter is now 8 years old and healthy, but the sick mother cannot receive any insurance. The mother's life is at risk. Asylum seeking HIV/AIDS patients and other patients do not receive the most important life-saving treatments.

No integration - Recognized refugees do not recieve any help in order to integrate into Israeli society, not even Hebrew lessons. They are doomed to remain in menial jobs.

Indifferent Xenophobic Bureaucracy – T., a recognized refugee from Ethiopia, died on 8 June 2004 in his home, while waiting for his refugee status to be renewed. Israeli authorities probably intended to reopen his case, meanwhile holding T. with no status. T. was a very sick diabetic patient and was unable to work for a living. He was accepted by the Canadian embassy as a refugee, but the Israeli Interior Ministry kept his traveling documents for more than a year. Results of the autopsy might clarify the case.


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