Israel’s asylum process: White refugees, black lies

Since it began processing requests itself, Israel has approved only one asylum request, an albino girl from the Ivory Coast. Now the RSD unit is recommending that another albino asylum seeker be recognized as a refugee. Spread the word – albinos of Africa unite and come to Israel, you’ll be recognized as refugees here. On the other hand, if you’re black Africans, you’ll find nothing here.

Israel's asylum process: White refugees, black lies
A Sudanese woman shows her UNHCR Refugee card from Egypt during a refugee protest in front of the government’s offices in center Tel Aviv October 14, 2012. (photo: Oren Ziv/Activestills)

Breaking news: the Interior Ministry’s Refugee Status Determination (RSD) Unit, which deals with asylum seekers, will recommend – for the third time in three and a half years – that an individual be recognized as a refugee. The refugee slated to be recognized is an albino Nigerian national who may be persecuted if he is deported due to his albinism.

To date, from the thousands of requests that have been reviewed, the RSD unit has only provided the certifying bodies with two positive recommendations to recognize individuals as refugees; out of those two, only one was recognized as a refugee. In that case the individual was an albino girl from the Ivory Coast (a recommendation to recognize a Libyan national as a refugee was rejected by the Advisory Committee for Refugees).

A few days ago, the Population, Immigration and Borders Authority published its annual report with misleading data regarding the rate of refugee recognition by the RSD unit. The report details the number of asylum seekers recognized as refugees every year since the unit was established, in 2009 (a total of 22 refugees). The innocent reader will surmise that since its establishment the RSD unit reviewed 22 cases and recognized those individuals as refugees. However, of the 22 asylum requests that were approved, 21 were not reviewed by the RSD unit. Prior to 2009, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reviewed asylum requests in Israel, and in July of that year this responsibility was transferred to the Interior Ministry’s RSD unit. UNHCR continued to handle open cases, and many of them were stuck for extended periods of time, and their approvals were unrelated to the establishment of the RSD unit. Only one approved asylum request – the albino girl from the Ivory Coast – was the result of a positive recommendation by the RSD unit, and now the unit is recommending that another albino asylum seeker be recognized as a refugee.

Spread the word – albinos of Africa unite and come to Israel, you’ll be recognized as refugees here. On the other hand, if you’re black Africans, you’ll find nothing here. Thousands of Africans’ asylum requests were reviewed by the RSD unit, and not a single one had a positive recommendations. Albinos – In. Blacks – Raus.

Aside from the symbolic significances, it can be explained thusly: the RSD unit is a production line for simulated contradictions in interviewees’ remarks. The unit has never found a trustworthy person. Those interested in reading abundant examples of this can peruse the Hotline for Migrant Workers report on the RSD unit. If you can’t remember the color of the bus you took from Darfur to Khartoum – you’re a liar and not a refugee. If you couldn’t tell how many Ethiopian police officers raided your house and kidnapped your father at 3:00 a.m. when in was pitch dark – you are unreliable and are not refugee. If you forgot the birth date of one of your seven brothers – you’re a liar and not a refugee. If you didn’t know that your good friend was active in an illegal group in Colombia – you’re a liar and are not a refugee. Albinos have a hard time lying about the color of their skin, and therefore if albinos are persecuted in their country of origin, there’s no choice but to recognize them as refugees. But if you’re black, you’re just a liar, work infiltrator or economic migrant.

The RSD unit is programmed and calibrated to detect a lie in every word. The Interior Ministry successfully instilled a sense in RSD unit members that they are the Population, Immigration and Borders Authority elite, as the unit has requirements unheard of in other units: you must have an undergraduate degree, English letters are used in the unit name, there is a course taught by some Americans, and there is a distinct dress code (you haven’t seen unit pride until you’ve seen some RSD members in uniforms that are too small). At the end of the day, the unit uses the same techniques to produce lies as the other Interior Ministry units, with some improvements. Asylum interviews in the unit feel like police interrogations, in which every other sentence is met with a hostile look, an impatient outburst, or anything else meant to convey to the asylum seeker that he or she is being held as a liar until proving otherwise. Any person who sits in on such an interview can, at any point, stop believing themselves.

Inside the RSD unit, no one speaks the truth. There are only liars. When everything an individual says is a lie, unrelated to the question of whether he or she is describing something that really happened, a distinction can no longer be made between the truth and a lie. Asylum systems are meant to distinguish between refugees and those who are not refugees, but when the the system is so sick that it can’t identify a refugee if they hit them in the face (unless he or she is albino), the distinction that the unit makes is insignificant. If a person faces no danger in his or her country of origin, it is dangerous for everyone in their country of origin. If no one is a refugee, then everyone is a refugee. If everyone is a liar, everyone is telling the truth.

The asylum world created by the Interior Ministry is nearly post-modern, in this respect, but it isn’t really. When every asylum seeker is a liar, the terms “truth” and “lie” lose any rational meaning. And therefor the Interior Ministry can follow that same line of thinking – it can tell the public that on the one hand, all of the Sudanese and Eritreans will be in danger if they are returned to their countries of origin, yet they are not refugees but rather economic migrants. It can tell the Supreme Court, through the State Prosecution, that all of the Eritreans will soon be deported, and it is therefore fine if some of them are held in prison for an undetermined amount of time, even though they will not be repatriated any time soon.

Here’s a cat.

Israel's asylum process: White refugees, black lies
White cat and a tabby (Photo: Flickr / Tiger Girl / CC)