Israel is refusing to grant asylum to four Somali citizens, contrary to the recommendation of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). The request for asylum was rejected by the Interior Ministry and is now being appealed in the courts.
The UNHCR recommends the granting of collective protection for Somali citizens originating in the south and central parts of the African country (the recommendation is based on a general decision from the committee advising on refugees). In Israel, however, the ministry’s decision to reject the asylum seekers’ application was based on out-of-date information.
The four Somali citizens recently appealed, through attorney Yonatan Berman, to the Jerusalem District Court against the Interior Minister and the committee advising on refugee issues, requesting that they be recognized as refugees and be granted asylum.
There are an estimated 20 Somali citizens currently living in Israel.
The requests for asylum in Israel are examined by a unit for Refugee Status Determination.
Staff interview the refugee applicants and examine whether they meet the criteria in line with international convention as well as the conditions in their countries of origin. The unit then makes its recommendations to the committee advising on refugees, and they in turn advise the Interior Minister, who personally decides whether to grant asylum or not.
Somalia has been in a state of civil war since 1991, and the government does not exercise effective control over large parts of the country, which are controlled by armed militias. The conditions on the ground in southern and central Somalia, and especially in the capital Mogadishu, are harsh. As such, any expulsion of asylum seekers back to these areas would endanger their lives.
On the basis of these facts, the UN refugee agency concluded in May 2010 that Mogadishu and the entire southern and central region of Somalia is a disaster zone, and that anyone staying there is risking his life. It was also stated that returning people to those areas constitutes a violation of international law.
In spite of these facts, and based on an opinion paper prepared by the Interior Ministry, the committee advising on refugees decided in January that no temporary collective protection would be granted to Somali asylum seekers. Moreover, each case would be examined individually.
"A", 28, was born in Mogadishu, and is a member of a minority tribe. At the start of the civil war in ‘91, his father was killed by militias in front of the family home. In 2005, "A" left for Egypt, where he was arrested, held for a month and released once the UNHCR recognized him as a refugee.
However, since refugees are not given basic rights in Egypt, "A" crossed the border into Israel in March 2009. When he was arrested in Israel, he asked to be recognized as a refugee. He was interviewed by a representative of the UNHCR.
Following the interview, in July 2009 the UNHCR turned to the Interior Ministry and the Custody Court, asking that "A" be released from custody since he had proved, beyond all doubt, that he is a Somali citizen. In February 2010, the UNHCR concluded that, in its opinion, A met the conditions of the convention on refugee status and that he should be granted refugee status in Israel.
However, "A" was only released from custody in April 2010. At the same time his request for asylum was rejected by the Interior Ministry.
The opinion on which the ministry’s decision was based was prepared by staff at the Interior Ministry. It was not compiled independently but was copied from three sources.
The first was based on instructions from the British Home Office, which states that it is possible to return Somali citizens to their home country. In June 2011, the European Court of Human Rights issued a ruling on the Somali issue, rejecting that British policy.The second source was the opinion of the UNHCR from April 2009 even though there was a clear, more recent recommendation from May 2010.
The 2009 opinion dealt with 60,000 displaced persons from different parts of Somalia. “The Interior Ministry selected in its ‘opinion’ to quote a single paragraph from a long report, failing to reveal to the advisory committee what the rest of the report states,” according to the asylum seekers’ appeal.
For example, they did not tell the committee that the UNHCR recommended, in the same report, that refugees not be allowed to return to Mogadishu.
The third source from which the opinion’s authors quoted was another UN report, from February 2009, according to which 40,000 internally displaced persons returned to Mogadishu. This time they did quote the warning about the danger of returning to Mogadishu, but they did not use the parts which said there were 1.3 million internally-displaced persons in Somalia, and that the number of Somali refugees in various countries nears 450,000.
“The conduct of the Interior Ministry with regard to the Somali citizens is another example of the way in which irresponsible decisions are made as a result of complete indifference to human life,” Berman says.
The Population and Immigration Authority said in response that “the committee advising on refugees discussed individual applications for asylum and examines whether the cases that are brought before it [pertain to persons] who are at personal risk of persecution.”