Court Frees Eritrean Migrant After State Misses Deadline

Ruling on release of African migrant first since anti-infiltration law was amended in 2012.

A district court ordered the immediate release of an African migrant after the state failed to respond to her asylum request. This is the first time an Israeli court has ordered an African migrant freed since the anti-infiltration law was amended in 2012.

The Be’er Sheva District Court on Sunday ordered the release of an Eritrean woman from detention after the state did not respond to her asylum request within nine months, the period specified by law. This is the first time since changes in the Law for Prevention of Infiltration took effect in June 2012 that Israeli court orders an African migrant freed because a request for asylum was left unanswered. The law allows the state to detain a person for up to three years without trial based on the offense of entering Israel illegally.

In June, the state began denying en masse asylum requests of hundreds of African migrants held in detention. Since then, not a single request of an Eritrean or Sudanese citizen held in Israel has been approved

The woman, who was released on Tuesday after the state exhausted all legal procedures, was 24-year-old A., an Eritrean citizen who crossed the border from Egypt into Israel at the beginning of June 2012, only a few days after the amended law took effect. A. was detained upon her entry to Israel, and in September 2012 she filed her request for asylum with the aid of two lawyers from the Hotline for Migrant Workers.

After more than nine months eclipsed, her lawyers in July asked the Custody Court to order her release. The state was given a week to respond, but at the last moment chose to ask for an extension due to “the absence of officials.” After a six day extension was granted by Judge Marzuk Raja, the state claimed that the matter was at the discretion of the Population and Immigration Authority, and therefore the petition should be rejected.

On July 24, a day after the state’s response was received, the detention court ordered A. released. Raja said the state had not shown any justifiable reason for delaying the handling of her asylum request, and keeping her in detention any longer constituted an excessive violation of her rights. The judge made her release conditional on the deposit of NIS 2,000 and an additional NIS 8,000 bond. The court gave the state five days to appeal the decision. The state did not appeal, but petitioned the court shortly before the deadline and asked to delay her release, claiming that a decision on her asylum request was due in a few hours. The court rejected the request.

On July 29, her lawyers appeared at the Immigration Authority’s offices at Ben-Gurion airport. The bond money was accepted, but A. was still not released.

At the same time, after the time-frame set by the court had passed, the state filed an additional request to delay the release – claiming that A.’s request for asylum had been denied. The state added, however, that due to Israel’s policy not to deport Eritrean citizens back to their homeland, A. would not be deported. The court agreed to postpone the release and withdraw its decision on the following day. A.’s lawyers then appealed to the District Court.

Judge Shlomo Friedlander rejected the state’s claim that releasing the migrant would motivate others to infiltrate into Israel. It was necessary to strike a balance between the public interest and human rights, he said, as well to uphold the law.

The Immigration Authority in response said they are “in the midst of a process of examining hundreds of asylum requests. Nonetheless, it is long and in depth process that takes time before a final decision is made, including the recommendation of the Advisory Committee on Refugees. In this case, after the request was examined in depth, it was decided to reject it.”

Eliyahu Hershkovitz