By Jan Vranken
While in the Netherlands we see an increasingly decreasing influx of asylum seekers and the related issue of their return, we can see an opposite development in Israel since 2006 in Israel.
The influx of illegal migrants is on the rise, partly fueled by the revolution in neighboring Egypt, where illegal immigrants, mainly from Eritrea and Sudan (the so-called Lost Boys generation) have been adrift. These people, looking for perspective, a future and work are thus often smuggled over the border into Israel by Bedouins from the south..
The scope of this article will be limited to my field of expertise, the organization of effective return and return-counseling of rejected asylum seekers and illegal migrants (those who never applied for asylum), who want to, or have to return to their home country.
It is indeed very difficult to address the Israeli asylum challenge, without elaborating the highly complex geographical and international political context of the country.
I will zoom in on what conditions must be met within the asylum procedure to ensure that the voluntary return of these groups negotiable, and can be achieved.
In the Netherlands there were more than 50,000 asylum seekers in the mid-nineties , now that number has dropped to below 15000. These high influx figures were the breaking point of what the Netherlands within its own standards could absorb in asylum centers. The Dutch government still had to provide care and shelter for new asylum seekers so they rented holiday centers, and eventually there appeared tent camps in corn fields, which led to much public outrage.
In Israel, the influx rates are higher than in the Netherlands, even if we consider the ratio of own population / influx. This is illustrated by the UNHCR research paper 205, from Yonathan Paz, showing that 26,000 asylum seekers have entered Israel through the border with Egypt. The population size of Israel is about half that of the Netherlands.
In the Netherlands, of a grand total of 50,000 asylum seekers a number returned voluntary or where forcibly returned. Despite a well-organized and institutionalized asylum procedure the Netherlands were, under pressure of public opinion, compelled to grant a general pardon for a total of more than 27000 people in 2007, so they could start with a clean slate again.
Netherlands will do its utmost to assist asylum seekers as much as possible to return voluntarily to their country. This is cheaper and more sociable than people being forced off. The norm is that we do not want forced returns, and so we put in all sorts of means to prevent it.
In the Netherlands, the Repatriation and Departure Services are specially created to help people back to return to their home country. There are also in civil society many small and larger initiatives such NGOs, whether or not financially supported by the government to support and counsel asylum seekers from as early as possible to support the search of perspective in their own country . This is done by specialist guidance and material support by highly qualified staff.
These are good projects, which reach out to a , growing, minority of failed asylum seekers who want to return voluntarily to their home country..
The Dutch government thinks it is important to have these, as the much needed counterbalance to the forced expansion that is used only as a last resort.
The Netherlands has worked since 1987 ,from the emergence of the phenomenon of 'asylum seekers' in the Netherlands, to develop its facilities and knowledge tot the level that we see now in the Netherlands. It has taken fifteen years of policymaking, pilot projects and development to reach the current level.
As mentioned, the situation in Israel is difficult to compare with the Netherlands because there are many times larger security interests at stake for Israel, and the geopolitical situation remained proved unstable .
Yet , also in Israel there is an organized asylum procedure, which was established in cooperation with UNHCR, and this procedure develops further in cooperation with UNHCR.
Israel adheres, as co-author of course, the Geneva Conventions and does not refoul asylum seekers while in the asylum procedure . Israel also knows the so called and non-refoulment measure (a measure that prevents a certain group of people forced to be turned off) known for people from Eritrea and Sudan, the latter is nota bene an "enemy state’ against Israel.
There is much public concern since June, particularly in Europe when Israel announced a stricter deportation policy, after they had tried to find diplomatic solutions to let people return to their home country. Israel offered Eritrea substantial support in order to take back their nationals.
The reader must, however, clearly bear in mind that in the Israeli case for the most part it’s not about people who have claimed asylum, but about people who illegally have entered the country to establish a living for themselves in Tel Aviv.
These people can all also still apply for asylum under Israeli law. It concerns even the people who have come in through Egypt, and actually had to apply for asylum there. The Netherlands send people back to their first country of entrance in Europe in order to apply for asylum there, this is arranged under the ‘Schengen’ treaty.
This means in Israel although there are many illegal immigrants, only few of them apply for asylum ( about 6000 ). These big numbers of illegal immigrants coupled with the precarious security situation of the country, especially since the Egyptian revolution shows logic in rejectionist politics that have the upper hand .
However, Israel now shows progress through the development of a full asylum procedure, and we also see in Israel the development of a social midfield around this group of migrants and. So , linear to the developments 12 years ago in the Netherlands, we can see the grip from the government on the situation increase, and therefore the possibility for failed asylum seekers to return voluntarily will increase as well. Only when the asylum procedures are developed to a stage were you truly know your applicants, you can start counseling and guidance aimed at repatriation for those who are not allowed to stay in Israel, and take measures to support those who can stay in Israel .
Promotion of voluntary return can not be done until the dust has settled and there is a detailed and workable asylum procedure
It is only on bases of this solid procedure that perspective can be offered to those who are not eligible to stay in Israel. The Netherlands learned this through trial and error in the last 15 years, and there will still be individual cases that challenge the system.
In the near future we will see reality-driven rapid developments in the qualitative development of the asylum procedures, and therefore its ability to support those who have to return
Perhaps the knowledge and experience gained by the Netherlands in this area can be of added value for Israel in the near future.