Report: Israelis help African migrants fake refugee status

A group of Israelis have been working together to assist Africans staying in Israel temporarily, such as students or pilgrims, with getting a permanent status by filing a false asylum request.
Photo credit: Channel 2 News

Each week, worshipers gather for prayer at a south Tel Aviv church, which was founded by members of the rapidly-growing African migrant community. Some of these churchgoers are students who came to Israel to acquire an academic degree. The priest, Jeremiah, a Nigerian-born Israeli citizen, bonds with them and becomes an inspiring spiritual figure for them. But he does more than that. According to a Channel 2 News special report, Jeremiah is just one link in a chain of people who work together to help Africans forge stories of asylum-seeking in order to stay in Israel permanently.

Judith, a student from Uganda who had no intention of staying in Israel after her studies, was offered by Paul, an assistant to Jeremiah, to take her to a lawyer who would make sure she got all the required documents that proved she was an asylum seeker. That way, Israel would be unable to deport her without first verifying or falsifying her claim, which could take a long time since Israel has yet to form a clear immigration policy.

Paul charges Judith 500 shekels and accompanies her to the office of lawyer Sarah Mintus, who suggests that she file a request for asylum in Israel and sends her to sleep in Jeremiah's church. There, she joins a group of South African pilgrims who also plan to file for asylum.

Tomer Varsha, a lawyer who specializes in visas, says such phenomena "undermine the credibility of the system regarding treatment of cases of real asylum seekers."

Shortly after the report was aired on Channel 2 News, Interior Minister Aryeh Deri stated that he would turn to the police and other bodies "in order to put an immediate stop to this phenomenon of faking refugee status for tourists."

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