The Interior Ministry has again reduced the number of offices serving Eritrean and Sudanese asylum seekers, to a total of three.
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On Sunday, the ministry closed its office on Tubal Street in Tel Aviv with no notice. Until this week, that office was the main one serving asylum seekers who need to renew their visas.
In its place, a new office was opened on the border between Bnei Brak and Ramat Gan, near the Ayalon Mall. But asylum seekers learned of this only when they arrived at the Tubal Street office and found it closed.
In addition, the ministry this week closed a busy Hadera office serving asylum seekers in Hadera. This closure means that the northernmost location where asylum seekers can renew their visas is now the new office in Bnei Brak.
Until a few months ago, the ministry had seven offices that served asylum seekers. Since then, offices have been closed in Upper Nazareth, Haifa, Petah Tikva and Rishon Letzion (though since these offices weren’t all open at the same time, the total never went above seven). Now, following the latest closure in Hadera, only three offices nationwide serve some 44,000 Eritrean and Sudanese nationals in Israel.
Until about a year ago, asylum seekers could renew their visas at almost any ministry office nationwide. But after the Knesset passed a new law last December allowing asylum seekers to be held indefinitely at an open detention center in Holot – a law the High Court of Justice overturned six weeks ago – the ministry decided that from then on, asylum seekers would be served only at offices in Tel Aviv, Be’er Sheva and Haifa.
This resulted in long lines and many asylum seekers were unable to renew their visas on time. Consequently, some were arrested and jailed while others lost their jobs. That in turn led to harsh criticism of the ministry, prompting it to open additional offices. But over the past few months, several of them have closed again.
The Hotline for Refugees and Migrants assailed the latest decision to curtail service to asylum seekers.
“The Interior Ministry is one again ratcheting up its abuse of asylum seekers and isn’t learning from its past mistakes,” the organization said in a statement. “A mere three offices, not all of which operate full-time, will once again lead to a situation in which thousands are forced to jam themselves into huge lines, risk losing their jobs due to lengthy absences and be vulnerable to arrest.
“Steps like this are a salient example of the way the government, with its own hands, is concentrating the asylum seekers in south Tel Aviv,” the statement continued. “If they could renew their visas throughout the country (as they could in the past), this would be one more factor that might facilitate their natural dispersal. We urge the Interior Ministry to stop deliberately piling on difficulties, expand the number of offices and their reception hours and enable asylum seekers to renew their visas in a reasonable manner.”
The ministry’s Population, Immigration and Border Authority responded that in the interest of efficiency, it decided to concentrate services for visa seekers “in one large, well-cared-for, suitable and respectable building ... in the center of the country, a place accessible to everyone,” with waiting areas inside and outside.