African asylum seekers attempting to open requests for refugee status were abruptly turned away from the Population Immigration and Border Authority office in south Tel Aviv this week and, without warning, sent to a new office in Bnei Brak.
A sign on the doorway, written only in Hebrew, notified potential asylum seekers of the change Wednesday morning. Activists contend that the Bnei Brak location is another attempt to make it difficult for Africans to file for asylum — the office is located an hour’s bus ride from south Tel Aviv, where 90% of the asylum seekers live.
There is a backlog of approximately 8,800 applications for asylum. Between 2009 and 2017, 15,400 people opened files seeking asylum with the PIBA office. Israel has denied asylum to 6,600 people.
Israel has given 10 Eritreans and one Sudanese asylum status, an approval rate of 0.056%. Internationally, the European Union has recognized asylum claims from 90% of Eritreans who apply for refugee status and 56% of Sudanese, according to the European Stability Institute.
The low rate of acceptance has discouraged many African asylum seekers from starting an application, which they see as a waste of time. However, as the state plans to start a wave of deportations in March, many asylum seekers are hurrying to open an application for asylum, because the appeal must be resolved prior to deportation. This means the Interior Ministry must individually review and decide whether the individual meets requirements for asylum (in 0.056% of the time), or else the ministry will reject the application.
PIBA spokeswoman Sabine Hadad said the situation in Tel Aviv had become “unbearable” for residents of the area. The Salome Street office is located next to the Florentin Quarter, a swanky new development area.
The line outside the office at which people could open asylum applications sometimes formed as early as 4 p.m. of the previous day, i.e., 16 hours before the office was due to open at 8 a.m. the next day. Sometimes hundreds of people spent his amount of time waiting in line.
Israeli residents in Tel Aviv complained that there were frequent fights in the line. To boot, a number of people urinated in the streets, where they were forced to wait in line overnight. A municipality spokeswoman said that the city’s security patrols made frequent stops to keep order and they were aware of the problem.
Hadad said that PIBA decided to move the office to Bnei Brak as opposed to implementing a more ordered system that would not require asylum seekers to stand in line overnight. She said the conditions in the Bnei Brak waiting area are better — there are chairs.