By some estimates, 50,000 African asylum-seekers — mainly from Sudan and Eritrea — reside in Israel. For these men, women and children, the journey to the country is perilous: traversing hostile countries, often encountering bandits and facing the Egyptian and Sinai deserts before they even reach the border. Many who start the journey don’t make it. For those who do, they face a kind of purgatory rather than a home.
In December 2013, the Israeli Knesset added an amendment to the Anti-Infiltration law. It requires asylum-seekers from Eritrea and Sudan to be automatically detained for at least a year and then placed, indefinitely, in an open detention center. The opening of Holot detention center at the beginning of this year followed the passage of the amendment. It currently holds more than 2,000 African asylum-seekers, with a plan in place to expand the capacity to about 8,000.
The country’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu referred to what he sees as illegal immigrants as being “infiltrators” in Israel. Worldwide, Eritrean and Sudanese nationals have very high rates of what the UNHCR calls “refugee recognition“: 82% for Eritreans and 68% for Sudanese. Israel, however, has one of the world’s lowest rates of refugee recognition.