Amid Israel-Russia Crisis, Jerusalem Denies Entry to Thousands of Russians Due to Spike in Asylum Requests

Israel's Population and Immigration Authority officials said Tuesday that in response to a precipitous rise in the number of Russian citizens applying for asylum in the country, it has refused entry to thousands of Russian tourists.

According to the Interior Ministry agency, asylum applications from Russians rose to 4,000 this year, from just 395 in 2016. Between 2009 and 2012 no asylum requests were submitted by Russians.

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To address the steep increase, around two months ago the immigration authority introduced an expedited process to refuse asylum requests from Russian citizens.

This year, 5,700 Russians were refused entry to Israel at Ben-Gurion International Airport, preventing individuals who might have wanted to ask for asylum from doing so. Last year, according to the authority, 4,355 Russian citizens were turned back.

“The refused entries are our response” to the rise in asylum applications from Russians, Prof. Shlomo Mor Yosef, the director of the Population and Immigration Authority, said at a media briefing in Bnei Brak on Wednesday. “These large numbers of denied entries create disquiet on both sides,” he added. He said his agency’s refusals were justified “90 percent of the time and unjustified 10 percent. We’re not perfect.”

Last week dozens of Israeli tourists and business travelers were delayed at the Moscow airport for as much of six hours before they were permitted to enter the country. The incident came after Russian authorities complained to Israel about the treatment of Russian tourists at Ben-Gurion. Mor Yosef said Russians who were denied entry to Israel “appealed to their authorities because they’re angry.”

People waiting in line at the entrance to the Immigration Authority offices in Bnei Brak on December 25, 2019.מוטי מילרוד

The case of Naama Issachar, an Israeli-American woman who was sentenced to 7.5 years in prison in Russia on drug charges, has added to the rising tensions with Russia.