Sudanese and Eritrean workers - Alon Ron - Nov. 2010
Sudanese and Eritrean workers in Tel Aviv November 2010. Photo by Alon Ron
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A Sudanese asylum seeker was held in the Saharonim detention center in Ketziot for two and a half years and then deported because the Interior Ministry claimed he was a citizen of Chad, his lawyers say.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees had found he was a Sudanese citizen, and should therefore have been released.

However, a special custody court and the Immigration Authority recently ordered him deported - without informing his lawyers - on the grounds that he signed a Chadian laissez-passer, even though his lawyers had appealed his detention two weeks ago and a court was due to hear the case next month.

The Interior Ministry says his signature on the laissez-passer proves his departure was voluntary.

His lawyers, Iftach Cohen and Omer Shatz of the Anu Plitim ("We are Refugees" ) organization have filed an urgent request to be told where he is now and receive all relevant material about his deportation. The Be'er Sheva District Court ordered the state to respond within a week.

Aroun Abdullah Hassan came to Israel in May 2008 and was promptly detained. Only two and a half months later was he finally brought before the custody court, where he asked to meet with UNHCR representatives.

The court is supposed to review his case every 30 days, but in reality, the interval was often as long as 60 days.

At one hearing, about six months after entering Israel, Hassan said he had fled Sudan for a Chadian refugee camp, then obtained Chadian documents so he could leave that country. The court asked UNHCR to check this claim.

Then, at a follow-up hearing in January 2009, it emerged that UNHCR already had concluded Hassan was Sudanese and asked the ministry to release him on that basis back in September 2008 - but for some reason, this request wasn't in his file.

In March 2009, Hassan submitted documents attesting that he was Sudanese. But the court said they were not original documents, and it suspected they were forged.

No ministry representative attended any of these hearings, nor did the ministry ever look into Hassan's citizenship. But at the custody court's request, UNHCR did so once again.

In April 2009, it told the court that after having reinterrogated Hassan, it was convinced he was indeed Sudanese, and should therefore be freed while his application for asylum was processed. This is standard practice when asylum is likely to be granted, as it is for all Sudanese refugees.

Yet this request, too, somehow never made it into Hassan's file.

Moreover, UNHCR's conclusion failed to satisfy the court: A month later, it suddenly declared it had no authority to determine Hassan's citizenship anyway, so he would have to convince the Interior Ministry official in charge of border control.

The ministry then interviewed Hassan and concluded he was from Chad. On that basis, the court told the ministry in August 2009 that it should ask him to fill out an application for a laissez-passer, which would enable his deportation.

Hassan eventually signed the form, and in March 2010, the court asked him whether he was willing to leave. His reply was unequivocal: "I don't want to return to Chad. The Immigration [Authority] told me to sign, so I signed."

But in its ruling, the court declared that Hassan "told the court he wanted to return to Chad."

The Immigration Authority then arranged for him to meet with Red Cross representatives to arrange his departure. But at that meeting, he reiterated his claim to be Sudanese, which halted the departure process. That led the court to accuse him of being uncooperative.

At his last hearing, in September, Judge Yossi Maimon warned that if he continued refusing to cooperate, "I won't be able to help you anymore."

That was the last Hassan heard from him until the court ordered his deportation - without even informing his lawyers.

The Interior Ministry, responding on behalf of the court, charged that Hassan's attorneys often failed to show up for hearings. It also said the court's rulings "speak for themselves."

The Immigration Authority said that when Hassan arrived, he presented Chadian identity documents, and that at every subsequent interview, he said he was from Chad.

Moreover, it said, Hassan asked the Red Cross to help him return to Chad, so he was not deported, but rather left voluntarily.