Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Israel has welcomed large numbers of Ukrainian and Russian Jews within the scope of its Law of Return. Its treatment of these groups, however, stands in stark contrast to that experienced by other refugees and asylum seekers–many of whom face detention and deportation. Most recently, the country’s Interior Ministry announced its intention to permit deportations to Sudan.
Approximately 13,000 Ukrainians with Jewish heritage are reported to have made aliyah (or emigrated) to Israel since 24 February. Soon after Russian forces began bombarding Ukraine, Israel’s Ministry of Aliyah and Integration removed bureaucratic hurdles to help expedite the aliyah process for potential Ukrainian olim (immigrants), and authorities set up aliyah processing centres at Ukrainian border crossings with Hungary, Poland, Moldova, and Romania. As part of an emergency plan dubbed “Arvut Israel” (“Israel Guarantees”), Israel vowed to provide temporary accommodation to Ukrainian olim in Israel and to absorb them into integration programmes.
Speaking shortly after the arrival of the first group of Ukrainians in early March, the country’s Minister of Aliyah and Integration said: “They are welcomed in Israel with a big hug. The children who do not have a home or parents represent the great need of all those who escape to Israel to find warmth and safety. The State of Israel will assist those children and all of the other olim with all the assets available to the government of Israel.”
Even larger numbers of Russians have also made aliyah since the invasion began. Following Putin’s partial mobilisation announcement on 21 September, the largest call-up in Russia since World War II, Israel has witnessed a surge in Russians entering the country. Unlike many governments, Jerusalem has not adopted official sanctions against Moscow and the country’s national airline has continued to operate direct flights to Moscow.
While those eligible for aliyah have been welcomed, some Russians arriving on tourist visas have found themselves denied entry, and have been detained and deported. According to information received by Haaretz newspaper, between 24 February and 1 October 2022 more than 2,000 Russians have been blocked from entering the country. Several recent cases have attracted widespread attention and criticism–including that of the detention and deportation to Turkey of a Russian wheelchair-bound wife of an Israeli citizen along with her 13-year-old son, and the deportation to Russia of a mother with her seven-month-old baby.
Following public backlash in the wake of these cases, Israel’s Interior Ministry instructed the Population and Immigration Authority to grant entry to couples even if only one person is an Israeli citizen – thus allowing people to enter the country before they complete the various bureaucratic procedures required for gaining residency.
Israel’s Law of Return gives anyone who is Jewish (born or converted), the spouses of Jewish persons, and persons with Jewish parents or grandparents, the right to move to Israel and claim Israeli citizenship. However, those without such a background or family connections face a starkly different reality.
Following a controversial 2012 amendment to the country’s Prevention of Infiltration Law, all refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants entering the country “irregularly”–such as those crossing from Egypt–are labelled as “infiltrators” and subsequently face detention. The country has no national asylum legislation, authorities routinely reject asylum claims, and successive government policies have sought to coerce non-nationals–in particular Africans–into leaving “voluntarily.” This has included the deduction of 20 percent from salaries and placing this in accounts that can only be accessed if they depart the country, and barring asylum seekers from certain professions in major cities.
Most recently, on 18 October the Israeli Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked announced plans to tighten the country’s policy on Sudanese asylum seekers after a review concluded that they are not in enough danger in Sudan to justify seeking asylum. Currently, asylum seekers from Darfur and the Nuba Mountains are entitled to temporary residency in Israel. But the Interior Ministry’s conclusion that persons from these regions are not systematically persecuted on the basis of their ethnic origin, and that Khartoum is a suitable residential option for them, could pave the way to deportations. Previously in April Shaked also announced plans to remove protection of Congolese citizens. From December 8, Israel will be able to deport Congolese persons who do not have pending asylum applications.
- Ministry of Aliyah and Integration, “Operation “Israel Guarantees” (Arvut Yisrael) for the Rescue of Ukrainian Jews is on its Way,” 7 March 2022, https://www.gov.il/en/departments/news/arvut-israel-op
- E. Moussa, “From Refugees to Settlers: How the Ukraine War is Helping Israel’s Demographic Project,” The New Arab, 28 March 2022, https://english.alaraby.co.uk/analysis/how-ukraine-war-helping-israels-demographic-project
- R. Bassist, “Israelis’ Russian Families Allowed Into Country After Deportation Backlash,” Al Monitor, 12 October 2022, https://www.al-monitor.com/originals/2022/10/israelis-russian-families-allowed-country-after-deportation-backlash
- P. Shankar, “Should Europe Shelter Russians Fleeing Mobilisation?” Al Jazeera, 6 October 2022, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2022/10/6/granting-asylum-to-russian-men-fleeing-draft-remains-complex
- A. Obel, “Emergency Meeting Held as Israel Braces for Wave of Immigrants After Russian Call-Up,” The Times of Israel, 22 September 2022, https://www.timesofisrael.com/emergency-meeting-held-as-israel-braces-for-wave-of-immigrants-after-russian-call-up/
- The Jerusalem Post, “Interior Minister Shaked to Crack Down on Sudanese Asylum Seekers in Israel,” 18 October 2022, https://www.jpost.com/breaking-news/article-719910
- B. Peleg, “Sudan No Longer Danger for Asylum Seekers to Return, Israeli Minister Claims,” Haaretz, 18 October 2022, https://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/2022-10-18/ty-article/.premium/asylum-seekers-may-return-safely-to-sudan-israels-interior-minister-says/00000183-eb2a-df2c-a9df-ebbf13070000