Israel Has Granted Refugee Status to Only Four Sudanese and Eritrean Asylum Seekers

According to the state’s own figures, only around one percent of applications from Sudanese asylum seekers have received a response; over 2,000 await an answer

Ilan Lior
Ilan Lior
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African asylum seekers at the Holot detention facility protest the expulsion from Israel of others, February 17, 2014.
African asylum seekers at the Holot detention facility protest the expulsion from Israel of others, February 17, 2014.Credit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz
Ilan Lior
Ilan Lior

The Israeli government has responded to just 1.42 percent of the requests for asylum submitted by Sudanese nationals living in the country, and has not granted refugee status to a single one.

Since July 2009, Sudanese citizens in Israel, most of whom came from the Darfur region, submitted 3,165 asylum requests. The state answered only 45 of the applications, rejecting 40 of them and granting temporary residency to five people on the basis of a cabinet resolution from 2007, under then-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. Of the Sudanese asylum seekers, 976 (31 percent) either left Israel or withdrew their applications. The remaining 2,184 (69 percent) are still waiting for an answer.

These figures were submitted by the state on Monday to the High Court of Justice, in connection to a petition by human rights organizations seeking to repeal a recent amendment to the Prevention of Infiltration Law that allows for the imprisonment of asylum-seekers.

The situation of Eritrean asylum seekers is not much better. Of the 2,408 Eritreans in Israel who have requested refugee status, only four (0.16 percent) received a positive reply, 997 requests (41.4 percent) were denied, 72 applicants (3 percent) left the country and 1,335 (55.44 percent) have yet to receive a response.

Israel has granted refugee status to just four of the 5,573 asylum seekers from Sudan and Eritrea combined, or 0.07 percent. Internationally, 84 percent of Eritreans and 56 percent of Sudanese asylum seekers either received refugee status or were granted extended protection in the first half of 2014, according to the United Nations refugee agency, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

According to the state’s own figures, in the past five and a half years it received a total of 17,778 applications for asylum from nationals of various states. Only 45 of these individuals (0.25 percent) were recognized as refugees, while 12,175 (68.5 percent) of applications were denied or withdrawn and 5,558 (31.25 percent) have not been answered.

The state noted in its response to the court that only 47 of the 60 positions budgeted for the Population, Immigration and Border Authority’s Refugee Status Determination Unit are currently staffed, adding that efforts are under way to hire additional employees. The state also emphasized that the RSD process is a complex one that includes a number of stages.

The director of the Population, Immigration and Border Authority, Amnon Ben Ami, told the court that all 3,519 asylum seekers from Sudan and Eritrea who have not heard back from the agency should have an answer within a year at most. The state promised, as it has in the past, to give priority to the requests of asylum seekers being held at the Holot detention center in southern Israel.

Of the 5,803 Sudanese and Eritrean nationals who left Israel last year, 1,258 (22 percent) did so directly from either Holot or the Saharonim prison, and 822 (14 percent) had applied for asylum during their stays in Israel.

In a High Court session on the matter two weeks ago Yochi Gnessin, the lawyer representing the state in the matter, rebuffed the petitioners’ claim that the purpose of the Holot facility was to “break the spirit” of the asylum seekers. She did, however, admit that the state seeks to encourage “voluntary exit” by sending asylum seekers to Holot.

In the past two months there has been no significant change in the rate at which Sudanese and Eritreans left Israel. According to the figures issued by the state, neither the overturn in September of the previous amendment to the Prevention of Infiltration Law nor the replacement passed by the Knesset in December had much effect on the exit rate. In the first six weeks of the year, 345 Eritreans and Sudanese left the country. According to Population, Immigration and Border Authority data, in 2014 there were about 34,000 Eritreans and 8,800 Sudanese in Israel.

The state also gave the court additional details on the detainees at Holot: 1,940 asylum seekers are being held at Holot, 1,476 (76 percent) of them Sudanese citizens and 464 (24 percent) Eritreans. Of these, 865 (45 percent) have been there for more than nine months. The new amendment limits stays at Holot to 20 months. Of the Holot detainees, 1,198 (62 percent) came to Israel at least six years ago.

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