Refugee kept in Israeli custody for years over alleged identity snafu
Tribunal determines asylum seeker to be from Senegal, but lawyers say court put wrong testimony in his file; Justice Ministry refutes claim.
Officials have continued for the past several months to detain an asylum seeker whose country of origin is in dispute, apparently basing their decision on an interview with another detainee.
The asylum seeker, Niama Sosoka, has been in detention for four years.
Custody tribunal Judge Elad Azar ruled in November that Sosoka's country of origin is Senegal, based on an interview conducted by officials in the Population and Immigration Authority with another man, Musa Abdallah Ibrahim, the transcript of which was apparently mistakenly placed in Sosoka's file.
The court says they based the ruling on the correct interview.
Iftach Cohen and Omer Shatz, attorneys for the refugee advocacy group Anu Plitim, appealed the ruling to the Petah Tikva District Court and asked that Sosoka be immediately released.
Sosoka came to Israel from Ivory Coast in January 2007. He was arrested and ordered deported, although Israel had extended collective protection to Ivorians in 2003. He has been in custody ever since.
In 2008, Israel suspended collective protection to Ivorians, but reinstated the policy after the region was defined as a high-risk area.
In February 2007 a hearing was held for Sosoka, at which time he said he was waiting for a meeting with the United Nations representative for refugees. The Custody Tribunal re-approved Sosoka's continued detention at that time, as it had been doing on a monthly basis.
In May 2008, the custody tribunal was informed that the state had rejected Sosoka's request for political asylum.
In October 2009, the tribunal claimed that based on Sosoka's meeting with the Ivory Coast consul, Sosoka was not an Ivorian. However Sosoka continued to insist that he was.
There have reportedly been cases in which Dioula speakers from Bouake in northern Ivory Coast have not been recognized by the consul as Ivorians.
Surprisingly, in July 2010, the tribunal wrote that Sosoka had been identified by the Population and Immigration Authority as an Ivorian, and that he had filled out a request for a laissez-passer. The tribunal asked why he had not yet been deported.
In October 2010, the tribunal reiterated its original claim as to how Sosoka had been determined to be a citizen of Ivory Coast, and required another interview to determine his origins.
At that interview, as noted, held in November, population authority officials determined Sosoka was not Ivorian.
However, the interview transcript with the detainee from Senegal that had been mistakenly inserted into his file satisfied Azar. "As I suspected, the detainee was not identified as Ivorian, and his responses indicate that he is from Senegal..."
In late December, the United Nations refugee agency told the custody tribunal that procedural mistakes made in the past required a re-examination of certain cases, among them Sosoka's.
The Justice Ministry responded, in the name of the custody tribunal, that the judge's decision was based on the correct interview. A ministry statement said the judge had the right documents when he made his ruling, and that only the right documents were in Sosoka's file. The statement also said that "until the query by the newspaper, the judge had not seen the transcript of the interview with the other detainee and has not heard his case."
The statement also said that Ivory Coast is not even mentioned in the other interview, and since that is the heart of the issue, it "completely discounts" the claim that the judge based his decision on that interview.
"All that happened was that the tribunal secretariat received the two interviews electronically as one file (which after receipt could not be separated ) and it was scanned into the computer system that way after the hearing and the ruling," the statement continued. "For the convenience of the detainee's representative, the file was sent to him with both interviews, one of which was relevant. To conclude from this that the judge based is ruling on the wrong interview is nothing but a desire to defame and goad for no reason."