High Court Orders Israel to Process Darfuri Asylum Requests by End of Year

If government fails to decide on the applications, asylum seekers who have been in Israel without status for years will be given temporary residency

Lee Yaron
Lee Yaron
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Asylum seekers in Tel Aviv's Neve Sha'anan neighborhood, February.
Asylum seekers in Tel Aviv's Neve Sha'anan neighborhood, February.Credit: Hadas Parush
Lee Yaron
Lee Yaron

The High Court of Justice gave the state until the end of the year to decide on the asylum applications of refugees from Darfur, the Nuba Mountains and the Blue Nile region. If the deadline is not met, the asylum seekers will receive temporary residency.

In Sunday’s unanimous ruling, Justices Esther Hayut, George Karra and Yael Willner instructed officials to either adjudicate the requests or come up with a different solution to facilitate their leaving Israel, “given that the state is avoiding a decision – in principle or on an individual basis – on the requests, the oldest of which has been left hanging for over a decade.”

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The ruling applies to 2,445 asylum applications submitted before June 2017. The justices stressed that the granting of temporary residency was an interim solution that gives basic rights to asylum seekers whose cases have been delayed for an exceptionally long time. The justices added that if an asylum request is denied, the applicant’s residency status can be rescinded.

The court said the state has dragged its feet in handling the asylum applications, giving various reasons over the years for doing so. The state has yet to formulate a comprehensive policy on asylum seekers, the court wrote. It also mentioned the notice issued by the state in October 2018 of its intent to adjudicate asylum requests on a case-by-case basis. Nevertheless, after conducting hundreds of interviews with asylum seekers, not a single decision was made.

Noting that this situation left the asylum seekers in limbo and without basic rights, Hayut wrote, “If the asylum requests of those from Darfur had been evaluated, it’s possible that at least some of them would have been approved.”

The High Court had addressed the issue in response to two petitions. One was filed by attorneys Michal Pomerantz and Carmel Pomerantz, who sought to have the state recognize the Darfur exiles as refugees; the other was filed by the Tomer Warsha law firm, which sought to have them granted temporary residency.

Warsha welcomed the ruling. “This is a most successful day for human rights in Israel, and for the asylum seekers from Darfur in particular. The interior minister is also subject to the law, and the High Court ruled explicitly that one cannot use one’s authority improperly and avoid deciding on asylum requests for years.” He added that the ruling was “an appropriate response to Israel’s ongoing failure; on the one hand it is a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention, while on the other hand it ignores all the justified requests, for its own reasons.”

The Jerusalem office of Israel's Population And Immigration Authority, last June. Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

The Pomerantzes said, “We welcome the ruling and hope the Interior Ministry will honor it and that the survivors of the genocide in Sudan will not continue to be toyed with by Israeli domestic politics.”

Some 6,000 Sudanese nationals live in Israel, around one-fifth of the asylum seekers in Israel. They fled their native land to escape the widespread murders going on since 2003 in Darfur, the Nuba Mountains and the Blue Nile region. Over the years only one Sudanese request for asylum was approved, leaving Sudanese asylum seekers to live in Israel without formal status or rights. Since the coronavirus pandemic and subsequent loss of jobs, their situation has worsened.

During the past decade, Israel’s unwillingness to rule on asylum requests has been criticized by the State Comptroller’s Office, the United Nations and the Supreme Court. The state has given the courts a long list of varying, often contradictory reasons for the delay. Sources in the Interior Ministry’s Population and Immigration Authority have admitted in private conversations that these were never serious reasons, but delaying tactics.

Between 2012 and 2017, state representatives repeatedly told the High Court, in response to petitions on the issue, that the Sudanese nationals’ requests were being evaluated. In 2015, the state promised that by February 2016 there would be decisions on all the requests submitted by then, but that didn’t happen. Several times the state argued that the delay stemmed from the desire to formulate, “a principled and broad policy” on asylum seekers, but in October 2018 the state changed its position, saying it would make decisions on the asylum seekers on a case-by-case basis, which required the formulation of guidelines for evaluating the requests. In December 2018 the Population Authority started to reexamine asylum requests from Sudanese, but only after two more petitions were filed to protest the lack of decisions. It was those two petitions on which the Court ruled Sunday.

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