Key mixed migration characteristics:

Israel is a densely populated country of 7.9 million inhabitants located on the eastern Mediterranean coast.[1] It has a long history of immigration – absorbing Jewish immigrants from Europe, the Middle East, North America, Russia and Ethiopia following its establishment in 1948. The population of immigrants stands at approximately 2.9 million making up 40.4% of the entire population.[2] The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates that around 60,000 Africans have entered Israeli territory along the border with Egypt between 2005 and 2012.[3] The majority of the African migrants and asylum seekers are of Eritrean and Sudanese nationality.

Most recent statistics:

Estimates in 2013 place the number of African asylum seekers and migrants in Israel at 55,000, with approximately 1,750 of them in detention facilities.[4] Over the past year, the number of African asylum seekers and undocumented migrants arriving in Israel has dropped drastically.

In a press briefing held in 2014, the legal adviser to the Population and Immigration Border Authority announced that some 2,500 African migrants left Israel voluntary in 2013, these numbers included Sudanese and Eritreans. Moreover there was a 99.6% drop in the number of undocumented migrants entering Israel in the first half of 2013. Between January and June 2013 only 34 undocumented migrants reached Israel’s borders, this is compared to 9,570 during the same period in 2012.[5] By November 2013, the number of undocumented migrants reaching Israeli cities had reportedly fallen to zero.[6]

The drop in numbers may be attributed to the sealing of the Sinai route after the adoption of strict legislative measures aimed at curbing irregular migration and the completion of a 240 kilometer fence on the border with Egypt. Israel deported 9000 undocumented migrants in 2012, where approximately 4000 were of African origin.[7]  In November 2013, the Israeli Cabinet announced its determination to continue with its deportation policy of undocumented migrants, promising to deport them by the tens of thousands.[8]  

Main drivers and motivation for migration:

Israel was once considered a prime destination country for sub-Saharan Africans. It was a terminus for asylum seekers and drew economic migrants attracted to its developed and high income economy.[9] It also served as a transit country for asylum seekers and migrants in their journeys to the Middle East and Europe. But with the adoption of strict legislative immigration laws and the completion of the Egypt-Israel border fence, it is now a country that is increasingly difficult to enter irregularly.[10]

As a country of mixed migration origin:

According to the World Bank, there are just over one million emigrants from Israel making up 14% of its population. Top destination countries include the West Bank and Gaza, the United States, Canada, Germany, the United Kingdom, Jordan, Australia, France, the Netherlands, and Belgium.[11]

As a country of mixed migration destination:

With the Sinai route largely sealed, sub-Saharan migrants and asylum seekers are looking for alternative routes to reach countries where they may find refuge and economic opportunities. According to the UNHCR, there has been a shift in migration movements towards the Mediterranean. African migrants are travelling to Libya and from there to Lampedusa,  then Sicily, and finally onwards to mainland Europe.[12]

Jews are entitled to immigrate to Israel and take up Israeli citizenship under Israel’s 1950 Law of Return.[13] This is known as 'aliyah' which means ascent in Hebrew. From 1950, the Israeli Government has assisted more than 40,000 Jewish Ethiopians living in the Horn of Africa make 'aliyah' to Israel.[14] ‘Operation Dove Wings’ – launched in 2012 and completed in August 2013 – was the last coordinated campaign by the Jewish Agency to bring Jewish Ethiopians to Israel.[15] Undocumented migrants are not entitled to make 'aliyah'.[16]

As a country of mixed migration transit:

Before the strict legislative measures were adopted and the Egypt-Israel border fence completed, Israel served as a transit country for migrants traveling to the Middle East and Europe. At this time there is no verifiable data providing an indication of the number of asylum seekers and migrants who use Israel as a country of transit. 

Characteristics of migration (means and modes):

The passage to Israel from sub-Saharan Africa consists of a journey through Egypt and its Sinai desert. Some migrants and asylum seekers travel with friends or go alone.[17] Others choose to pay smugglers - some of whom belong to the Rashaida ethnic group and Bedouin tribes - to facilitate their journeys.[18] According to reports, a network for smuggling sub-Saharan Africans has operated in the area since 2007.[19] With the increased political instability in Egypt, it is said that the smugglers and human traffickers have increased their activities by taking advantage of the relative lawlessness in the Sinai Peninsula.[20]  

The journey to Israel is dangerous, arduous and safe passage is not guaranteed.[21] Although reports indicate a significant disparity of experiences,[22] claims of abductions by human traffickers - where asylum seekers and migrants are held for ransom and are subjected to abuse, exploitation, and sometimes even death - are not infrequent.[23]  It appears that the risk of abduction is present throughout the journey. Asylum seekers and migrants have reported being kidnapped as far as East Sudan[24] and within the Sinai itself.  Besides the possibility of abductions, asylum seekers and migrants also face the risk of being caught in Egypt, where they may be detained and deported to their countries of origin.[25] Others who reach the Egypt-Israel border run the risk of being shot or seriously injured by Egyptian border guards as they attempt to cross into Israeli territory.[26]

International and National Laws and Policies:

Israel’s present immigration policy is motivated by the Government’s articulated need to preserve the Jewish character of the State.[27] All migrants crossing its borders irregularly are classified as ‘infiltrators’ with the consequence that asylum seekers, economic and forced migrants (including those who pose a threat to Israel’s national security) are categorized into a single homogenous group. In line with this policy, refugee status determination mechanisms are not in place.

In January 2013, the Knesset (Israel’s Parliament) passed an amendment to the 1954 Prevention of Infiltration Law. The amendment empowered the Israeli government to hold people entering the country irregularly in custody for three years.[28] On September 16th 2013, the Israeli Supreme Court struck down the amendment. The Court found it unconstitutional because it disproportionately limited the fundamental right to liberty under Israel’s Basic Law and International Law. The Court ordered the Israeli authorities to examine the cases of migrants already in custody as well as the release of migrants where no reason exists for their detention. Owing to the large numbers of undocumented migrants in custody, the Court gave the Government 90 days to complete the examination process.

In response to the Court’s judgment, the Israeli Knesset adopted another amendment to the 1954 Prevention of Infiltration Law on 10th December 2013.  Under the latest amendment the Israeli authorities are empowered to detain migrants who enter Israel irregularly in a ‘closed facility’ for one year without trial (instead of the three years, which was found to be unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in September). Conversely, undocumented migrants already in Israel will be directed to ‘open facilities’, which will be open by day and locked down at night. According to the amendment, the centres will be run by Israel's Public Security Ministry and Prisons Service. The inhabitants will be prohibited from working, except for work within the facilities. The Israel State will provide them with an allowance, board and healthcare but they will have to be present for roll call three times a day to prove they are not employed outside the facility. In the debate that preceded the amendment’s adoption, members of the Knesset supporting the bill stated that it was necessary to deter potential irregular migration into Israel. Those opposed to its adoption expressed their concern about the bill's failure to differentiate between economic migrants and asylum seekers in need to international protection. Amnesty International Israel has argued that the open facilities are little more than detention centres. It is expected that the constitutionality of the amendment will be challenged before the Supreme Court soon on the basis that it impermissibly infringes the right to liberty. 

The Israeli Government has also adopted policies to encourage the departure of undocumented migrants from Israel, which include monetary incentives amounting to $3,500 per departing migrant and implementing a crackdown on employers who hire undocumented migrants. [31]

Israel is a party to the 1951 Refugee Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol. According to the African Refugee Development Center, it has recognized less than 200 individuals as refugees since it ratified the Convention in 1954. The Center further reports that the government has failed to adopt national asylum legislation.[32] In January 2014, and in the midst of large scale protests by African migrants against its 'open-detention' policy and failure to recognize refugee claims, Israel granted political asylum to two Eritrean men. The Government stated that its decision was unrelated to the protests. Israel is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Racial Discrimination.

Risks and vulnerabilities of mixed migration:

Asylum seekers and migrants from the Horn of Africa face significant risks and vulnerabilities while in Israel. These risks are particularly acute for Eritrean and Sudanese nationals because the Israeli Government does not deport them at present. Although Eritreans are not entitled to refugee status in Israel they are still not returned to Eritrea. This is because the Government applies the principle of non-refoulement, which amounts to the recognition that if they are returned they face a real risk to their lives or liberty.[33] Conversely, the Government is not in a position to carry out deportations of Sudanese nationals due to a lack of diplomatic relations with Sudan.[34] If the latest amendment withstands judicial scrutiny, it is possible that Sudanese and Eritrean asylum seekers and economic migrants will face at least three choices: indefinite detention in the open/closed facilities in Israel; voluntary return to their countries of origin; or, moving to another country irregularly.[35]

Asylum seekers and migrants are exposed to routine discrimination and harassment from the Israeli population. This is particularly acute in areas that have high African migrant populations. In 2012 there were a number of anti-migrant protests by Israeli citizens and a fire bomb attack in South Tel Aviv.[36] Some Israeli citizens have claimed that African asylum seekers and migrants introduce crime to their neighborhoods and lower the living standards. It is likely that the economic and social vulnerabilities of asylum seekers and undocumented migrants will increase once the Government implements its policy to prevent them from working.


[1] As of 2012 data.worldbank.org/country/israel

[2] World Bank Migration and Remittances Factbook (2011) econ.worldbank.org/WBSITE/EXTERNAL/EXTDEC/EXTDECPROSPECTS/0,,contentMDK:21352016~pagePK:64165401~piPK:64165026~theSitePK:476883,00.html

[3] www.hrw.org/news/2012/06/10/israel-amend-anti-infiltration-law

[4] Adam v the Knesset Regarding the Constitutionality of Amendment No. 3 to the Prevention of Infiltration Law 2013 HCJ 7146/12. Summary of the Judgment available at elyon1.court.gov.il/files_eng/12/460/071/b24/12071460.b24.pdf

[5] Official Website of Benjamin Nethanyahu  www.netanyahu.org.il/en/news/573-99-6-drop-in-the-number-of-infiltrators-entering-israel-due-to-government-action

[6] www.pmo.gov.il/English/MediaCenter/Spokesman/Pages/spokemistanen241113.aspx

[7] www.theguardian.com/world/2012/dec/31/israeli-fence-cuts-migration-egypt

[8] www.pmo.gov.il/English/MediaCenter/Spokesman/Pages/spokemistanen241113.aspx

[9] Rachel Humphris ‘Refugees and the Rashaida: human smuggling and trafficking from Eritrea to Sudan and Egypt’ UNHCR New Issues in Refugee Research page 4.

[10] www.unhcr.org/pages/49e4864b6.html

[11] World Bank Migration and Remittances Factbook (2011) econ.worldbank.org/WBSITE/EXTERNAL/EXTDEC/EXTDECPROSPECTS/0,,contentMDK:21352016~pagePK:64165401~piPK:64165026~theSitePK:476883,00.html

[12] www.irinnews.org/report/99095/horn-migrants-risk-new-routes-to-reach-europe

[13] www.jafi.org/JewishAgency/English/Aliyah/Aliyah+Info/The+Law+of+Return/

[14] www.jewishagency.org/aliyah/program/301

[15] www.haaretz.com/jewish-world/ethiopian-exodus-the-last-chapter/.premium-1.543928

[16] Adam v the Knesset Regarding the Constitutionality of Amendment No. 3 to the Prevention of Infiltration Law HCJ 7146/12. Summary of the Judgment available at page 9 elyon1.court.gov.il/files_eng/12/460/071/b24/12071460.b24.pdf

[17] Jacobsen, Robinson, Lijnders ‘Ransom, collaborators, corruption: Sinai trafficking and transnational networks – a case study of the  Eritrean migration system from Eritrea to Israel’ at page 5 reliefweb.int/sites/reliefweb.int/files/resources/Ransom%20Collaborators%20Corruption.pdf

[18] Rachel Humphris ‘Refugees and the Rashaida: human smuggling and trafficking from Eritrea to Sudan and Egypt’ UNHCR New Issues in Refugee Research page 9.

[19] www.hrw.org/news/2010/12/09/egypt-end-traffickers-abuse-migrants

[20] www.maannews.net/eng/ViewDetails.aspx

[21] Rachel Humphris ‘Refugees and the Rashaida: human smuggling and trafficking from Eritrea to Sudan and Egypt’ UNHCR New Issues in Refugee Research page 4.

[22] Jacobsen, Robinson, Lijnders ‘Ransom, collaborators, corruption: Sinai trafficking and transnational networks – a case study of the  Eritrean migration system from Eritrea to Israel’ at page 5 reliefweb.int/sites/reliefweb.int/files/resources/Ransom%20Collaborators%20Corruption.pdf

[23] www.hrw.org/news/2010/12/09/egypt-end-traffickers-abuse-migrant

[24] Jacobsen, Robinson, Lijnders ‘Ransom, collaborators, corruption: Sinai trafficking and transnational networks – a case study of the  Eritrean migration system from Eritrea to Israel’ at page 10. reliefweb.int/sites/reliefweb.int/files/resources/Ransom%20Collaborators%20Corruption.pdf

[25] Rachel Humphris ‘Refugees and the Rashaida: human smuggling and trafficking from Eritrea to Sudan and Egypt’ UNHCR New Issues in Refugee Research page 4.

[26] www.hrw.org/news/2010/03/31/egypt-guards-kill-3-migrants-border-israel www.maannews.net/eng/ViewDetails.aspx

[27] ‘Asylum seekers fear worse to come in Israel’ Al Jazeera www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2013/11/asylum-seekers-fear-worse-come-israel-20131120407115835.html

[28] Ibid at page 3.

[29]  www.pmo.gov.il/English/MediaCenter/Spokesman/Pages/spokemistanen241113.aspx

[30] ‘Asylum seekers fear worse to come in Israel’ Al Jazeera www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2013/11/asylum-seekers-fear-worse-come-israel-20131120407115835.html

[31] www.pmo.gov.il/English/MediaCenter/Spokesman/Pages/spokemistanen241113.aspx

[32]African Refugee Development Center ardc-israel.org/en/content/refugees-israel; and www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2013/11/asylum-seekers-fear-worse-come-israel-20131120407115835.html

[33] Adam v the Knesset Regarding the Constitutionality of Amendment No. 3 to the Prevention of Infiltration Law 2013 HCJ 7146/12. Summary of the Judgment available at page 2 elyon1.court.gov.il/files_eng/12/460/071/b24/12071460.b24.pdf

[34] Adam v the Knesset Regarding the Constitutionality of Amendment No. 3 to the Prevention of Infiltration Law 2013 HCJ 7146/12. Summary of the Judgment available at page 2 elyon1.court.gov.il/files_eng/12/460/071/b24/12071460.b24.pdf

[35] www.independent.co.uk/news/world/africa/from-eritrea-to-israel-to-uganda-to-egypt-and-back-to-eritrea-army-deserter-faces-death-sentence-after-deportation-debacle-8526872.html

[36] www.theguardian.com/world/2012/may/24/israelis-attack-african-migrants-protest

recommend to friends
  • gplus
  • pinterest