A U.S.-based Jewish organization that deals with international immigration has announced that it will no longer cooperate with the immigration office in Lod that helps register asylum-seekers in Israel. The organization attributes the move to an Israeli policy instituted in January that allows the summary rejection of asylum requests, which in turn exposes applicants to the risk of immediate detention following rejection.
HIAS, formally known as the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, has long-standing experience in dealing with refugees and other immigrants. The U.S.-based organization was involved in setting up the Population and Immigration Authority's registration unit for asylum-seekers in Lod, and the refugee status determination unit in Tel Aviv, following the 2009 transfer of these roles from the United Nations High Commission for Refugees. HIAS had been training staff at the two new offices and supervising clerks there, whose work includes oversight of interviews with asylum-seekers and the handling of requests.
The Immigration Authority, which is part of the Interior Ministry, said the asylum-seekers whose requests are summarily rejected involve applications that are baseless or fraudulent, falsely claiming that the refugees' lives would be in danger if they were denied asylum. Because the claims are baseless, they are subject to arrest, the Immigration Authority said.
When the policy was instituted, the head of the refugee rights clinic at Tel Aviv University, Yuval Livnat, lodged a complaint with the head of the Population and Immigration Authority, Amnon Ben-Ami, demanding an immediate stop to the procedure.
"Arrest of an asylum-seeker on the spot, in circumstances in which he was free and arrived on his own to the location where asylum-seekers are required to file their asylum requests, is entirely contrary to the spirit and the rationale behind the [international] convention on refugees," Livnat said.
In practice, refugees are being deprived of their right to request asylum, Livnat added, because they are afraid of being arrested after submitting their requests.
When Livnat failed to receive a reply from the Immigration Authority, he contacted HIAS and was told that the organization strongly disagreed with the practice of arresting asylum seekers at the offices where they were filing their asylum requests. He was told that HIAS staff had been instructed to put an end to their staff training and registration work at the Lod registration center. HIAS also advised the Interior Ministry, of which the Population and Immigration Authority is a part, of the decision that it would no longer take part in these activities.
The arrest of asylum-seekers at the Immigration Authority offices has also met with criticism by Israel's judiciary.
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