HIAS works around the world to protect refugees who have been forced to flee their homelands because of who they are, including ethnic, religious, and sexual minorities. For more than 130 years, HIAS has assisted more than 4.5 million refugees rebuild their lives in safety and dignity. Today HIAS works across 14 countries and five continents.
HIAS Israel assists olim (Jewish immigrants), works with civil society organizations and governmental bodies to improve the refugee asylum system and represents asylum seekers through legal proceedings.
Activity in Israel
HIAS has been working in Israel since before the establishment of the State. HIAS Israel’s goal is to be a professional authority in the field of immigration and to address the challenges facing new immigrants and asylum seekers. Our programs:
Training and Legal Aid
After several years of providing professional instruction to lawyers and organizations in the field of Refugee Law, and participating in the Interior Ministry’s training unit of the RSD (Refugee Status Determination) for handling asylum seekers, in 2014 we launched a Pro-Bono Legal Aid program to guide and represent asylum seekers in Israel. We train and mentor attorneys and law students while they represent refugees though out their legal proceedings.
Olim (Jewish immigrants)
For the past three decades HIAS Israel has worked together with the Jewish Agency and the HIAS office in New York City, to help new Jewish immigrants by providing academic scholarships. Recipients are chosen according to their academic achievements, financial needs and contributions to the community.
Activity Around the World
HIAS currently operates across five continents and 14 countries. HIAS focuses on promoting the rights of refugees through legal aid and intervention, assisting refugees to overcome trauma so they can begin anew through psychological care and on providing avenues for self-sufficiency through livelihood training.
For more information on HIAS work around the world visit: Www.hias.org.
The History of HIAS
HIAS was founded in 1881, originally to assist Jews fleeing pogroms in Russia and Eastern Europe and other places around the world. Out of a little shop in Manhattan, a group of American Jews organized to provide much-needed comfort and aid to thousands of Jews fleeing waves of anti-Semitic riots. They formed the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society to provide meals, transportation and jobs for the new arrivals to Manhattan. HIAS established a bureau on Ellis Island in 1904 providing translation services, guiding immigrants through medical screenings, arguing before the Boards of Special Enquiry to prevent deportations, and obtaining bonds to guarantee employable status.
In 1921 HIAS purchased the Astor Library Building in Lafayette Street, Manhattan and opened a shelter, a synagogue, classes, professional training, playground and a kosher soup kitchen, that served thousands of Jewish immigrants each week.
Over the next 80 years HIAS assisted millions of Jews fleeing persecution. To read more about this history go to: www.hias.org
Starting in the 2000s, HIAS expanded to work with refugees from all religions. Today, HIAS continues to work with the most vulnerable refugees of all faiths and ethnicities from all over the world.
Asylum Seekers In Israel
Legal Framework and Protection Context – March 2023
Israel is currently home to approximately 21,100 asylum seekers from Africa who entered the country through the Sinai desert between 2005-2012. Of the 21,100, 77% are Eritreans, 13% are Sudanese, and 10% are from other West African countries.
In November 2019, the MOI announced that all Eritreans’ asylum cases will be re-examined. Since then, Israel has rejected over 98% of asylum applications, with only a 0.06% acceptance rate.
Covid-19 and Its Effects
As Israel’s most marginalized group, asylum seekers were the first to feel the hit to the economy due to the global pandemic. In the first wave of lockdown, more than 80% of asylum seekers found themselves unemployed. With no guaranteed medical insurance or social security, hundreds of families were left to struggle on their own. During the crisis, NGOs reported that the number of asylum seekers that received their aid doubled, and requests for financial assistance for housing security tripled. Although the economy has long since reopened, asylum seekers continue to deal with the aftermath of this catastrophe.
However, On April 23, 2020, the High Court ordered repealing the 2017 Deposit Law, which required employers to deposit 20% of asylum seekers’ pay into a fund made accessible if they left the country. The decision was a massive victory for asylum seekers amid the pandemic, as the Court ordered the state to return all funds to the roughly 36,000 asylum seekers.
Judicial Overhaul: An Uncertain Future for Asylum Seekers
The potential judicial overhaul poses an enormous threat to asylum seekers' rights. The proposal, announced in January of 2023, limits the Supreme Court’s judicial oversight over government decisions. If passed, the government’s majority could override any future court decisions and change the rules of judicial selection. Therefore, the ruling coalition could reverse groundbreaking Supreme Court rulings upholding human rights, demolishing Israel’s system of checks and balances.
This proposal could have drastic consequences for asylum seekers in Israel, as the court would have no power to stand against future legislation denigrating the status of immigrants. If the legal changes go ahead, the rights of asylum seekers who already live in limbo in Israel would be at further risk.
Geographical Employment Ban
Before the dissolution of the Knesset in June of 2022, the Minister of the Interior released a new regulation that banned asylum-seekers from working in 17 central cities unless employed in the hotel sector, nursing homes, construction, or agriculture. This ban created devastating consequences for asylum seekers who have lived in Israel for years: it increases unemployment, encourages undocumented work, and weakens the Israeli economy by taking key workers away from their previously filled sectors. HIAS Israel is working to revoke this ban by advocating within the court system. After the District Court rejected a petition, HIAS appealed to the Supreme Court, where the regulation is being debated.
Integration in Education Struggles
The lack of social services and quality education significantly affects the children of asylum seekers in Israel. Due to dense populations of asylum seekers in South Tel Aviv, many children are segregated to certain schools, with over 90% without a single Israeli child. The lack of integration causes massive gaps in resources and cognitive development, which makes gaining higher education more challenging– on top of factors such as cost, language barriers, lack of documentation, and restricted access to specific study programs. In addition, non-Jewish A5 visa holders are often unable to join the IDF after secondary school like their Israeli counterparts. Vocational education for asylum seekers is not mainstream or government funded, making it more difficult for young adults to attain skills for the labor force. With HIAS’s constant advocacy to government entities to integrate public schools, we hope to see a future where children of asylum seekers are granted equal opportunities as Israeli children.
Israel has been in a constant tug-of-war between its obligations under the UN Refugee Convention and the challenges of being the only democratic country in the region with a land border with Africa.
There has been a significant increase in asylum seekers obtaining a durable status here in Israel and the beginning of a movement toward relocation and integration (propelled by NGOs and individuals rather than government policy). However, malicious policies like the geographical ban threatened the livelihood of thousands of asylum seekers. Additionally, the lack of resources for segregated schools exacerbates gaps between Israeli children and children of asylum seekers. The Supreme Court remains a crucial ally in safeguarding asylum seekers' limited rights and is a vital institution to protect. Additionally, with the border fence in place and no newcomers entering the country, this could be an opportunity for Israel to meet its international obligations and live up to the standards of refugee protection that it helped to create.