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The Interior Ministry has decided to set up a "complaints commission" for foreign residents to hear appeals of Immigration Authority decisions.

The commission, which will function as a court, will hear appeals relating to family unification and requests to obtain legal status for the children of permanent residents, among other issues. These are two issues that primarily affect residents of East Jerusalem and currently impose a heavy burden on the Jerusalem District Court.

Every year, some 4,000 petitions are filed against the Population Administration - whose functions with respect to foreigners were recently transferred to the Immigration Authority - in either the High Court of Justice or lower-level administrative courts, and the courts have made their displeasure with the situation known.

"The courts should not become the place where various requests are examined thoroughly and seriously for the first time," wrote former judge Boaz Okun of Jerusalem's administrative court in a ruling on one such case.

The ministry hopes that setting up the commission will streamline the handling of foreign residents' requests and significantly reduce the number of cases that reach the regular courts, as these courts will from now on refuse to hear cases that have not first been heard by the commission.

"An administrative tribunal for matters relating to foreigners is the norm in many countries in the Western world," it added in a statement.

Interior Minister Meir Sheetrit has appointed a former military judge, Mordechai Levy, to head the new commission. The Jerusalem Administrative Court has already begun transferring many cases to the commission.

The Association for Civil Rights in Israel was cautiously optimistic about the move, but said it would reserve judgment until it sees how the commission functions in practice.