Asylum Seeker's Missing Papers Shouldn't Bar Right to Family Life, Israeli Court Rules

Immigration authorities had denied application for permanent residence filed by Sudanese man and Israeli partner because he couldn’t get the required documents from the country he fled

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Asylum seekers in Tel Aviv.
Asylum seekers in Tel Aviv.Credit: Moti Milrod

A Sudanese asylum seeker and his Israeli domestic partner can continue to pursue permanent residence status for Wein even though he cannot obtain the necessary documents from Sudan, a court ruled on Wednesday.

Israelis should be allowed to pursue a family life in the country with the domestic partner of their choice, Tel Aviv District Court Judge Michal Agmon-Gonen wrote in her ruling. “Only in exceptional cases should that right be denied.”

The process of obtaining residency or citizenship for a foreign partner usually takes years. The couple completed the first stage of the residency application process, having established that their relationship is genuine. But the Population and Immigration Authority refused to let them proceed to the next step because Wein lacked the necessary documents from Sudan.

They appealed the decision to an appeals tribunal, arguing that the documents were impossible to obtain, both because of Sudan’s unstable situation and because the man is seeking asylum in Israel. The tribunal granted the appeal in part, ruling that he should be given a work permit of the type provided to foreign workers, but it said he could not obtain permanent residence or citizenship in Israel without the necessary documents.

The Tel Aviv courthouse.Credit: Ofer Vaknin

The couple then appealed to the district court, claiming that the man should benefit from the protection of Israel and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, since as a Sudanese national, he would be in danger if he returned home.

He entered Israel in 2007 and has remained in the country ever since thanks to Israel’s blanket policy of not deporting Sudanese nationals. Shortly after he arrived, he applied for asylum to the United Nations refugee agency and received temporary protection papers that confirm that he applied for asylum and is awaiting a response. The Israeli government has never responded to his asylum application.

Judge Agmon-Gonen ruled that, given the asylum seeker's inability to procure the necessary documents, the application process for permanent resident status should continue without them. Agmon-Gonen’s is the first Israeli court ruling that comprehensively addresses the demand that refugees obtain documentation from their homeland.

A sizable portion of the ruling was devoted to the right to family life. While acknowledging that the right sometimes conflicts with “the state’s legitimate need to oversee migration into its territory,” the judge stated that family life is “one of the most important” rights. Consequently, the state must take it into account in formulating its immigration policy.

The Sudanese man's Israeli partner said they were “very excited and happy” about the ruling. Their lawyer, Oded Feller of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, said the court “did the right thing by treating Wein first of all as a human being.” The ruling, he said, “sent a clear message to the Israeli authorities that the court will not allow it to make impossible demands and place insurmountable barriers before asylum seekers who are in relationships with Israelis.”