The Case for Asylum

by Mollie Gerver

Since moving to Rwanda for the year, I have been struck by the countless Rwandese who decided to return to Rwanda from Canada, EU countries, the United States, Uganda, South Africa, and more countries in order to help rebuild Rwanda. Many could and wanted to return specifically in order to utilize the skills, experiences, and education they gained while living in their respective countries of asylum.

A common argument in Israel is that, if Israel accepts some refugees, more refugees will come than Israel can handle. As a result, Israel deports some at the border, and lets others stay without any long-term promise of recognizing them as official refugees, with the rights to education and to seek a job that would come with such a refugee status. What is often ignored is that many refugees, especially those from South Sudan, eagerly wish to return when it is safe. The refugees did not leave their homes in order to obtain stable jobs and health insurance. While some would happily accept these benefits, refugees left because they were persecuted due to their ethnicity, religion, political identity, or group identity.

Not only is this a limited pool, it is a group of people who have left their country for reasons that can become irrelevant if the situation in their country changes. However, they need skills to assure that returning is good for them and good for their country. The initial refugees who take the chance and voluntarily repatriate themselves are often those who have the education and skills obtained while living in their countries of asylum, and it is these refugees who contribute to the welfare, security, and job opportunities that make returning even safer for others. Just as one saw a mass inflow of Rwandans coming home to Rwanda in the late 1990s after it was clear that their lives were not in danger in their country of origin, many South Sudanese – who make up the second-largest refugee group in Israel – hope to take back skills, funds, and family to South Sudan once they know they will not be persecuted there.

I have had the honor of living in two countries – Israel and Rwanda – where refugees did return home to create and see a better future. Individuals who received asylum returned to their homeland and contributed to massive job growth, improvements in education, and safety. Such a future is only possible if we respect our ethical, legal, and practical obligations and assure that asylum seekers can apply for asylum to begin with, to gain the rights that will save their lives now and rebuild their countries later.

Mollie Gerver is founder of Advocates for Asylum and was a 2010 PresenTense Global Fellow. She is currently a JDC Jewish Service Corp fellow at the Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village in Rwanda.

This post is from the just-released PresenTense Jewish Social Action Now issue; you can also subscribe to PresenTense Magazine and receive this, and future issues, delivered directly to you.