"I came to Israel as a refugee, but now I am a prisoner"
Deli Billy (not his real name) illegally immigrated to Israel from Ivory Coast. He currently resides in Eilat.
I first arrived in Israel in 2007. I came by way of the Sinai Peninsula, a piece of Egypt that borders Israel. The crossing was very dangerous because the Egyptian border guards began shooting at us. Some of the other immigrants I was travelling with were killed.
Since my arrival, I’ve been arrested by the Israeli police. I spent a month in prison, where I was locked up until some people who worked for the UN came to see me. They were able to secure my release, and gave me a ‘protection’, or an official document that grants you the right to live legally in Israel, but not the right to work or access social security. It is renewable every three months.
I worked illegally as a restaurant dish washer. I was arrested two times in 2008, and was made to serve two short sentences in jail – two weeks the first time and three weeks after the second arrest. In February 2010, I went to the UN offices to renew my papers but they sent me to Israel’s interior ministry. They were able to give me a visa, but it is only valid for one month. Every four weeks I have to travel to Tel Aviv to renew it.
It’s been a few months since the last time I had work. It isn’t a sustainable situation. I live with six other people in a three-room apartment. All of us are illegal immigrants. Even though some of us have the legal right to live here, we have no resources and the state does little to help us. I haven’t seen my family since I first arrived in Israel in 2007, but if I leave Israeli territory, I won’t be allowed back in the country. I came as a refugee, but now I am a prisoner”.