What happens to refugees who seek asylum in the Middle East? | Middle East| News and analysis of events in the Arab world | DW | 26.10.2015
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Middle East

What happens to refugees who seek asylum in the Middle East?

Europe is struggling to find a solution to deal with the unprecedented numbers of refugees entering the continent. However, many refugees and asylum seekers wish to remain in the Middle East - or have no other choice.

Since the journey to Europe is often rather expensive and dangerous, many refugees from the Middle East or Africa prefer to seek asylum in countries that are closer to home.

In the case of refugees fleeing East African countries, for instance, many hope to get their asylum requests processed in Israel, though they will often experience physical abuse, racism and prejudices from residents of countries along their route.

But Israel often does not meet the refugees' expectations.

Only last week, an Eritrean asylum seeker died after being attacked following a shooting in Israel's southern city of Beersheba. He was shot accidentally by an Israeli security guard while he was crawling on the ground.

The man was afterwards lynched by a crowd of people who mistook him for a criminal.

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According to Amnesty Israel, about 55,000 refugees and asylum seekers currently reside in Israel, the majority being from Eritrea (36,000) and Sudan (14,000).

Until 2014, people in need of asylum were provided with a form of temporary protection in Israel, renewable by applying periodically for the extension of so-called conditional release visas.

However, an updated amendment to Israel's Anti-Infiltration Law, passed by the Knesset in mid-December 2013, further limited their rights.

Flüchtlingslager Holot für afrikanische Asylsuchende in Israel

African asylum seekers and inmates of the Holot facility stand at the fence during a protest at the dentention center

Under the latest amendment, new asylum seekers arriving in an "irregular manner" will automatically be detained for at least a year, as will people whose conditional release visas have expired.

It is becoming more difficult to renew such visas, with renewal possible only in four cities and for a few hours each week. Long queues have been reported in some of these locations.

The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) is concerned that one of the provisions of the amendment requires asylum seekers to reside in the so-called open residence facility "Holot," located in the desert of Negev, with serious restrictions on their freedom of movement. These include mandatory residence, the requirement that they report in three times a day, and other disciplinary measures.

Israel Fluchtlinge in Holot Haftanstalt

Israeli policemen and immigration officers arrest an African asylum seeker after he spent two days protesting in Holot

"Since the Holot facility is housing people who cannot be returned to their countries of origin for reasons of non-refoulement, the organization is concerned that this facility could, in effect, result in indefinite detention, with no release grounds," according to UNHCR spokesperson Adrian Edwards.

And indeed, Israel's Supreme Court later put a limit on the time for which asylum seekers are allowed to be held in the facility to one year and eight months.

As a result of the decision 1,200 refugees were released, but in the absence of another adequate solution they had to stay in the streets, where some of them were quickly arrested again.

Struggling to survive

According to the UNHCR, there are also currently more than 810,000 refugees and asylum seekers in Jordan alone, with the number expected to rise to over 1 million by the end of 2015.

Syrians fleeing the ongoing violence in their country constitute the majority of Jordan's refugee population, with about 747,000 registered as asylum seekers there.

Jordanien Zaatari Flüchtlingslager

An aerial view of Zaatari refugee camp near the Jordanian city of Mafraq, some 8 kilometers from the Syrian border

However, while back in the first half of 2013 Jordan saw mass arrivals of refugees the numbers have since dropped significantly, due in part to the difficulty of getting to Jordan through disputed territories along the southern Syrian border.

The number of refugees returning to Syria from Jordan more than doubled in August 2015, with 3,853 returns recorded compared to 1,934 at the end of July, according to the UNHCR. The rise is partially attributed to the increasing difficulties of surviving in Jordan, most recently underlined by further World Food Programme (WFP) cuts.

As of 31 July, nearly 30,000 Iraqis were registered with the UNHCR in Jordan, the majority fleeing from Baghdad. While the security conditions in Iraq do not encourage refugees to return voluntarily, assistance and services are often insufficient to meet the needs of those who do remain in Jordan.

Lost identity

Syrians continue to make up the majority of refugees in Lebanon as well. According to current figures, there are over 1.3 million registered Syrian refugees in the country.

Jordanien Zaatari Flüchtlingslager

Young Syrian refugees play at the UN-run Zaatari camp, Jordan

Asylum seekers from Iraq make up the majority of new registrations among non-Syrians. Developments in Iraq have led to a significant increase in registration requests since June 2014.

It is estimated that there are tens of thousands of stateless people in Lebanon. A 2014 survey of Syrian refugees who were born in Lebanon found that 72 percent do not possess an official birth certificate, raising concerns over the recognition of their nationality by the Syrian authorities.

Many decide to try to reach Europe at any cost, but some cannot even afford the attempt.

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