Post by Maayan Ravid, DPhil candidate at the Centre for Criminology, University of Oxford. Her research explores intersections of border control, state penal power, race, ethnicity and citizenship. Her academic studies correspond with a decade of work on migration and minority rights in Israel. Maayan is on Twitter @MaayanRavid. This is the first instalment of Border Criminologies’ themed series organised by Maayan on ‘Border Control and the Criminalisation of African Asylum Seekers in Israel’.

The Border Criminologies Network, and its blog, engage with diverse accounts of border practices and experiences in different parts of the world. We are happy to contribute to this effort through a blog series, posted over the next two weeks, on migration control in Israel. In this first piece, I offer an introduction to the which, whys, whats and wheres of the debate.

Which migrants and what borders?

Protests in South Tel Aviv residents - For and Against Deportation (Photo Credit: Maayan Ravid)

The group of people who form the focus of this series are asylum seekers from Sudan and Eritrea, whom the Israeli state officially terms ‘infiltrators’. At the start of 2018 Israel was home to approximately 37,000 asylum seekers from Sudan and Eritrea (20% and 72% respectively), many of whom fled genocide or indefinite forced conscription. Israel recognises they are not deportable, due to risks in their home countries. Over half of this group submitted asylum requests, however, less than 1% received refugee status, while 2016 recognition rates in developed countries averaged at 90% for Eritreans and 57.4% for Sudanese. All have entered Israel since 2005 through non-authorised border points along its southern border with Egypt. All have navigated precarious legal statuses and daily realities, as Israel employs various exclusionary practices to regulate them under amended versions of the Prevention of Infiltration Law. Such practices have included: imprisonment upon entry, limitations on mobility, detention in Holot Facility, 20% deductions from salaries accessible only upon exit from the country, ‘voluntary returns’ and threats of deportation. Several of these policies will be discussed in this blog series, to show how border control is all-encompassing, and how it permeates all aspects of life.

A pressing question may emerge at this time for the reader: how can we discuss border control, securitisation and punishment in Israel without including Palestinians? Indeed, Palestinians are the largest group of people subjected to border control enforcements in and around Israel; as a group, they've experienced the most extreme and aggressive types of bordering practices, policing, detention and exclusion, over the longest periods of time. However, Palestinians are not migrants. They are indigenous people of the land, with claims to self-sovereignty and aspirations to Nationhood.

Although this series will not address border control and the Palestinian state, we recognise the numerous interconnections between Israeli systems of control and punishment. Most contributors to this series also study, work with, or advocate for Palestinian rights. Numerous legal and institutional connections between the experiences of African asylum seekers and Palestinians are clear, as the state seeks to re-assert its boundaries of belonging, through distributions/curtailments of rights and liberties.

Why Israel, why now?

Graffiti in South Tel Aviv reads "Deport Now" transformed into "Unite Now" (Photo Credit: Maayan Ravid)

The focus on border control in a specific country, such as Israel, is not the first of its kind on the Border Criminologies blog. In the beginning of 2015 the network declared its approach to Widening Participation, Consolidating Research, through an appeal for issue-focused series. Since then several countries have been in the spotlight. Past state-centered series include: Tanya Golash-Boza’s themed week on Deportation Threat, Realities, and Practices in the United States ;  Angeliki Dimitriadi’s week devoted to the Migrant Crisis in Greece;   Maartje van der Woude’s series on Decision-making in Dutch Borderlands; as well as Jaka Kukavica and Mojca M. Plesničar’s series on the Lawlessness of the Refugee crisis in Slovenia.

This is also not the first time Israel has appeared on the blog. In a 2015 post, Ruvi Ziegler analysed Israel’s detention apparatus and ‘Voluntary’ return policy, in addition to his analyses of the legislative processes and precarious status of Sudanese and Eritreans asylum seekers in Israel. In this last year, Ilan Amit shared insights on gaining access to detention and enforcement authorities in Israel as part of another blog series; and the writer Nine wrote a book Review about The Unchosen: The Lives of Israel’s New Others by Mya Guarnieri Jaradat. Furthermore, in 2017, I shared two posts on Immigration Detention in an Ethno National State and the role of law and bureaucracy in the ‘everyday’ construction of Holot.

A sense of relevance and urgency for this series emerges now, as threats of deportation make headlines and asylum seekers’ reality in Israel worsens. In December 2017, Israel announced the closing of Holot Detention Facility - the world’s largest immigration detention facility that had operated for 5 years. Located in the middle of the Southern Negev Desert, it had a holding capacity of 3,360 detainees. Upon closing Holot, the government announced an aggressive deportation programme of Sudanese and Eritreans to Rwanda. As part of this programme, those who leave would be given $3,500 and a paid flight; Rwanda would receive a payment of $5,000 per deportee. This programme was one in a series of exclusionary policies targeting this particular population, curtailing their rights.

Mass deportation was met with mass public protest and eventually struck down by Israel’s Supreme Court, yet this population remains at risk. Government policies have led thousands of people to leave Israel. Some fend for themselves in countries devastated by war or dictatorship, others seek migration to Europe by crossing the Mediterranean, and some perish or disappear along the way. Though forced deportation to Rwanda proved not viable, Israel now seeks deportation to Eritrea and Sudan. Those who remain in Israel struggle under state-induced poverty and ongoing exclusion. In this series, we aim to provide up-to-date information on various aspects of this complex predicament by scholars, activists and experts immersed in the field.

What will we discuss?

Asylum Seekers protest against deportation plans in front of Rwanda's Embassy (Photo Credit: Maayan Ravid)

The series opens with post by Tedros, who writes about his experience of fleeing Eritrea, seeking asylum in Israel, being detained in Holot and his life since. Tedros’ post provides a personal introduction to what living through immigration control feels like, before academic explorations of specific aspects follow. His post reminds us of the impossible situations asylum seekers face, and the need for research, collaboration and support from where we stand.

The first week of the series then focuses on restrictive laws and policies used to regulate Sudanese and Eritrean asylum seekers in Israel, including:

-Rottem Rosenberg (Tel Aviv University) who writes about changes to the institution of detention through immigration litigation in the Supreme Court.

-Niv Michaeli (Physicians for Human Rights) writes about rights and access to health for persons incarcerated and detained.

-Sigal Rosen (Hotline for Migrants and Refugees) writes about criminalisation through draconian visa regimes and bureaucratic practices.

-Gilad Natan (Institute for Immigration and Social Integration, Ruppin Academic Center) writes about taxation policy pushing people into illegality and ‘voluntary departures’.

The second week will focus on the lived experiences of asylum seekers facing restrictive laws:

-Chen Raveh, Yoav Shafranek and Dafna Lichtman (The Garden Library NGO), share from research conducted on experiences of asylum seeker’s children, growing up in the harsh reality of South Tel Aviv.

-Laurie Lijnders Tikue (SOAS) writes about women’s everyday strategies for resisting criminalisation and oppression.

-Liat Bolzman, Shahar Shoham and Lior Birger in Berlin, share their work documenting persons who left Israel through ‘voluntary return’ policy, followed by treacherous continued journeys toward Europe.

Where do we go from here?

While scholars and activists in Israel have worked over the last 10 years to produce knowledge and literature on the state of asylum seekers, and international academics contribute from varying disciplines; this is the first collection (that we know of) in English, that includes the Israeli case study in the wider debate on Border Criminologies. We hope this is the start of a longer conversation. Coordinating this series already has its organiser thinking of future conferences, books and shared projects.

All contributors to this series see it as a point of engagement with interested individuals, academics, and potential collaborators from abroad. Authors represent their own views, independent of each other. If interested, please be in touch with them, share, amplify, volunteer, or support their various efforts in whatever way you can.

Any comments about this post? Get in touch with us! Send us an email, or post a comment here or on Facebook. You can also tweet us.


How to cite this blog post (Harvard style) 

Ravid, M. (2018) Border Control and the Criminalisation of African Asylum Seekers in Israel. Available at: (Accessed [date]).