Last Updated: Wednesday, 22 November 2017, 17:20 GMT

U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2002 - Israel

Publisher United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
Publication Date 10 June 2002
Cite as United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2002 - Israel , 10 June 2002, available at: [accessed 23 November 2017]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

At the end of 2001, Israel hosted about 4,700 refugees and asylum seekers in need of protection. These included 3,909 refugees from Lebanon, 107 refugees from Sierra Leone, 62 refugees from other countries, and 563 asylum seekers pending status determinations. An estimated 200,000 to 250,000 Palestinians with Israeli citizenship remained internally displaced at year's end.

Jews are eligible to immigrate and become Israeli citizens under the Law of Return. This welcome applies regardless of their reasons for leaving their countries of origin, and Israel declines to categorize any Jewish immigrants as refugees.

Palestinian Refugees

At the time of Israel's creation in 1948, an estimated 725,000 to 810,000 Palestinians fled their homes in Palestine. By the end of 2001, the number of Palestinian refugees and their descendents had surpassed 4.1 million. UN General Assembly Resolution 194 upholds the right of Palestinian refugees to return to Israel and, for those not wishing to return, the right to receive compensation for their losses.

Israel rejects Resolution 194, saying that the resolution is nonbinding and therefore does not establish any "right" of return. In a January 17, 2002 letter to the U.S. Committee for Refugees (USCR), the Israeli government said that it "considers Resolution 194 not to be relevant to the realities of the Middle East, where the potential return of millions of Palestinian refugees could undermine the existence of the State of Israel. Thus, the change of circumstances over the past 53 years has made the return of Palestinian refugees no longer feasible and practicable."

Notwithstanding the Israeli position, three UN human rights treaty committees have found key aspects of Israel's nationality, citizenship, and land legislation – which effectively bar Palestinian refugees from returning to their former homes in what is now Israel – to be incompatible with the rights codified in relevant human rights conventions. (For more on Palestinian refugees, see reports on the Gaza Strip and West Bank, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, and Syria.)


Israel is a signatory to the UN Refugee Convention. During 2001, Israel took steps to establish an agency for adjudicating asylum claims, the National Status Granting Body (NSGB), which will begin functioning in January 2002. The Israeli government also established basic guidelines to regulate the asylum procedure during the year; the NSGB will review asylum applications and make recommendations to the Ministry of Interior, which will have the ultimate authority either to approve or deny cases. Denied applicants will have several possibilities to file administrative and judicial appeals under the guidelines.

However, because the NSGB was not operating in 2001, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) continued to determine the status of asylum seekers in the country. During the year, 469 asylum seekers submitted applications for refugee status with UNHCR, almost half of whom came from Ethiopia (201), followed by applicants from Eritrea (57), Liberia (48), and Sierra Leone (46). UNHCR issued 277 merits decisions during the year, granting refugee status to 78 applicants, a 28 percent approval rate. Ethiopians accounted for most of the cases decided (210) and also had a 28 percent approval rate. UNHCR also granted refugee status to a small number of applicants from Colombia, Iran, Liberia, Sudan, Eritrea, and Egypt.

The Israeli authorities reportedly honor UNHCR identification documents issued to asylum seekers and notify the agency of individuals in detention who wish to apply for asylum. UNHCR reported that it expedited refugee status determinations for such applicants. Between 10 and 20 persons apply for asylum from detention annually, according to UNHCR.

In 2001, the Ministry of Interior began granting work visas to asylum seekers awaiting decisions on their cases. During the year, Israel recognized as refugees those approved by UNHCR. The Israeli government grants recognized refugees the full range of rights afforded by the UN Refugee Convention, except for those from countries with which Israel has hostile relations.

In accordance with the Law Against Infiltration, Israel detains asylum seekers (along with other foreigners) from "enemy countries" attempting to enter Israel clandestinely. During the 1990s, UNHCR recorded the entry into Israel of about 60 non-Jewish asylum seekers and refugees from Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Sudan, and Syria to whom the law applied. On November 24, 1999, Israel's Supreme Court ordered the release from detention of ten refugees from Iraq, Iran, and Syria on the condition that they live on kibbutzim (communal agricultural settlements). In 2001, UNHCR recognized seven refugees from enemy countries, four from Iran and three from Sudan, who lived on kibbutzim along with another 12 refugees from Iraq, Iran, and Egypt.

In August, Israel summarily deported to Lebanon a group of 42 Iraqi asylum seekers of Kurdish origin. In response to wire service press reports on August 9 indicating the asylum seekers' imminent deportation, USCR called upon the Israeli government not to deport the group and to allow them to approach UNHCR's office in Israel to have their asylum claims heard. The Israeli government did not respond. At year's end, the group remained in southern Lebanon in an area controlled by the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL).

UNHCR pursues resettlement to other countries for refugees from enemy countries because Israel does not permit them to remain permanently. Six refugees resettled to third countries from Israel in 2001.

Lebanese Militiamen

When Israel withdrew from its proclaimed "security zone" in southern Lebanon in May 2000, its surrogate, the South Lebanese Army (SLA), disintegrated, and more than 6,000 of its members and their families fled to Israel, fearing retribution from Hizballah guerrillas and Lebanese forces for collaborating with Israel.

Although Israel provided former SLA members and their families with accommodation, permission to work, health insurance, access to education, and other benefits, many SLA members complained that they were not treated well enough, given their lengthy cooperation with the Israeli military. During 2001, many demanded that the Israeli government grant them citizenship, pensions, and other benefits at the same level as retired Israeli military officers, as well as compensation for their losses in Lebanon. SLA members reportedly faced problems integrating into Israeli society during the year, neither comfortable with Jewish Israelis nor with Arabs, who tended to view them as traitors for collaborating with the Israeli government.

Since their arrival in Israel in May 2000, some former SLA members have left Israel permanently, traveling on to other countries. Others have returned to Lebanon, despite the threat of arrest and trial for treason upon return. UNHCR reported 3,909 refugees from Lebanon in Israel at the end of 2001.

Internal Displacement

At more than 1 million, Israel's Arabs represent about 20 percent of the country's population. Of these, as many as 250,000 long-term displaced Palestinians resided in Israel in 2001, according to the National Committee for the Rights of the Internally Displaced Palestinians in Israel, created in 1992 to raise awareness and advocate on behalf of displaced Palestinians. Most of this population was displaced in 1948 (or are descendents of persons displaced at that time), but remain within Israel-proper. The National Committee called on the Israeli government to respect the right of the displaced to return to their former homes, asserting that a final status agreement between Israel and the Palestinians will not bring a just peace if it does not respect this right.

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