Last Updated: Monday, 20 November 2017, 16:41 GMT

U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2004 - Israel

Publisher United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
Publication Date 25 May 2004
Cite as United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2004 - Israel , 25 May 2004, available at: [accessed 21 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.

Israel is a party to the UN Refugee Convention. The Israeli National Status Granting Body (NSGB) took over responsibility for refugee status determination from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in 2002. The NSGB reviews asylum applications and makes recommendations to the Ministry of Interior, which has the ultimate authority for approval and denial of asylum cases. Since the takeover however, several asylum seekers have complained that the Israeli Ministry has failed to provide timely processing of decisions and benefits, including temporary residence permits, medical assistance, or work permits.

In February 2003, a group of 40 Ethiopian and Eritrean refugees who had endured a 23-day hunger strike in 2002 finally received temporary residence permits from the Ministry of Interior, closing a seven-year process for many of the petitioners. In a related step, the Interior Ministry also extended the right to work to asylum seekers with pending cases.

There is no separate residency status for refugees or asylees who are eligible for the same residency permits as other legal foreign workers. In addition, all Jews are eligible to immigrate and become citizens under Israel's Law of Return (aliyah), regardless of their reasons for leaving their countries of origin. Israel declines to categorize any Jewish immigrants as refugees.

In February 2003, the Israeli Cabinet unanimously decided to allow some 17,000 Falash Mura – Ethiopian Christians of Jewish descent – to enter the country. The group had spent the past decade in a refugee camp in Addis Ababa. An additional 3,000 to 4,000 urban Falasha, or Ethiopian Jews, would also immigrate from Ethiopia's northeastern province of Gondar. In November, about 2,000 Ethiopians demonstrated in front of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's office, demanding that Israel lift immigration restrictions barring family reunification.

Other Developments

Israel Defense Forces (IDF) returned a group of 45 Iraqi Kurds to Lebanon in October, after two years in the no-man's-land between Israel and Lebanon's borders. The Kurds had illegally crossed into Israel from southern Lebanon in August 2001. The UNHCR office in Beirut helped 16 to repatriate voluntarily, while the rest requested third-country resettlement.

Meeting in Geneva in April, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR) criticized Israeli plans to build its separation wall through the country and Occupied Territories. Israeli construction of the separation barrier resumed in October, when the United States vetoed a UN Security Council draft resolution declaring it a violation of international law. UNRWA estimated that the barrier, when completed, will block more than 150,000 Palestinian refugees from reaching schools, hospitals, and other humanitarian services. The Bush administration cut nearly $300 million in loan guarantees for Israel, equal to the amount spent on the barrier and settlements.

An estimated 250,000 Palestinians with Israeli citizenship are internally displaced in Israel, and have not been allowed to return to their villages since they were displaced in 1948.

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