For First Time in Decade, Israel to Grant Darfurian Asylum Seekers Temporary Status

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FILE PHOTO: A refugee stands in Israel's Maasiyahu prison in Lod May 28, 2006.

Israel will grant temporary residency status to 200 people from the Darfur region of Sudan who have submitted requests to be recognized as refugees years ago but have not received a response, Haaretz has learned.

The status, which is the same as that granted a refugee, will allow them to work and makes them eligible for social benefits, first and foremost national health insurance. They will also be able to get a laissez-passer on which they can leave Israel and return. The status will have no time limit, though the state can revoke it if circumstances change.

The decision to grant this status for “humanitarian reasons” was made by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Interior Minister Arye Dery, under pressure from Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit. It’s the first time in a decade that Israel is granting residency to a large group of asylum seekers; the last time was when the Olmert government granted refugee status to the first 600 Darfurians who entered Israel.

FILE PHOTO: An refugee who illegally crossed into Israel holds his hands up at the border with Egypt August 18, 2007.Credit: REUTERS

Attorney Michal Pomerantz, who is representing asylum seekers expected to be granted residency, welcomed the decision, but noted that the Interior Ministry’s own figures show that 283 Sudanese are awaiting a response for more than three-and-a-half years, while as of mid-December more than 2,300 Darfurians are awaiting a response. “Therefore, the announcement by the Interior Ministry that residency will be granted to 200 people, along with the clear statement that the Interior Ministry won’t deal with any asylum requests in the near term certainly doesn’t solve the problem. We’re talking about a cosmetic, arbitrary solution.”

The prosecution announced this decision Wednesday in its response to individual lawsuits filed by 20 asylum seekers in Tel Aviv District Court over the protracted lack of a response by the Population and Immigration Authority to their asylum requests. Some had submitted their requests more than three years ago and had never received a response.

Before going to the district court, they had appealed to the tribunal that deals with immigration and status issues, which ordered the population authority to grant them temporary work permits until their request for asylum was answered. But asylum seekers appealed that decision to the district court, demanding that they be granted temporary residency.

In an identical response submitted in all the cases, the prosecution said, “It was decided for humanitarian reasons to give A/5 [temporary residency] status to 200 Sudanese from the Darfur region at this stage.” The state also asked the court to dismiss the lawsuits, since all the appellants would be granted this status.

No explanation from state

The state did not explain the conditions for being granted residency or why it was decided to grant it to 200 people even though there are more than 2,000 Darfurians in Israel who have been waiting years for a response to their asylum requests. The state said this was “a first stage” in dealing with the Darfurians and that after the Supreme Court rules on an appeal against the policy of “encouraging” asylum seekers to leave for Uganda or Rwanda, “the policy’s broad terms will be examined as will the steps to be subsequently taken.” The High Court is expected to rule on that policy in the next few months, before some of the justices on the panel hearing the case retire.

Early Wednesday, before receiving the state’s announcement, attorneys Michal and Carmel Pomerantz filed a petition to the High Court of Justice, asking that it order the Population and Immigration Authority to decide on the Darfur nationals’ asylum requests.

Sudanese Darfur survivor Ibrahim holds human skulls at the site of a mass grave on the outskirts of the West Darfur town of Mukjar, Sudan, April 23, 2007.Credit: AP

The petition was submitted on behalf of 24 Darfur nationals who had not received a response for their asylum applications a very long time. The petitioners said the authority had concealed for more than two years an opinion submitted by the asylum applications unit, which said that any Darfur national who doesn’t belong to the Arab tribes is entitled to asylum in Israel.

The petition says the interior minister’s decision to withhold the decision regarding all Darfur nationals is not in keeping with the procedures of handling asylum seekers and with the state’s commitments to the court. The decision severely infringes on the petitioners’ rights, it says.

Guy Brand, the attorney of some 15 asylum seekers who will now receive legal status, also commended the state’s announcement and castigated the authority’s conduct.

Attorney: Delay was deceitful

“We regret that the Population Authority deceived the appeals court, claiming that the workload had prevented its decision on asylum requests that were submitted already in 2013,” he said.

One of his clients, who came from the Nuba mountains in Sudan, not Darfur, also received the state’s announcement that he would receive a temporary resident’s status.

The decision to grant a number of Darfur nationals a legal status was finally achieved not only by individual trial procedures, but by the pressure exerted by the Hotline for Refugees and Migrants.

In January this year Hotline attorney Assaf Weitzen asked Deputy Attorney General Dina Zilber to intervene and instruct the Population and Immigration Authority to examine the Darfur nationals’ asylum applications at once, in keeping with the authority’s obligation to the court.

Zilber replied that there was a legal difficulty in the current situation and asked the interior minister for clarifications. Dery responded that he was familiar with the issue of the Darfur nationals, but wanted to wait for the Supreme Court’s ruling in the matter of the deportation to Uganda before making a decision.

Finally, under the attorney general’s pressure, Dery agreed to grant 200 Sudan nationals temporary residents’ status.

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