Immigration Authority Won't Issue Visas to Underaged Children of Asylum Seekers

Lack of identifying documents exposes minors to arrest, makes it difficult for them to work and denies them basic rights.

An asylum seeker sits outside of the visa renewal center at the government complex in Tel Aviv, December 31, 2013.
Moti Milrod

The Population, Immigration and Border Authority won’t issue residency visas to the teenaged children of asylum seekers, which exposes them to arrest, makes it difficult for them to work, and denies them basic rights.

The authority's refusal emerges from an appeal on the matter submitted by ASSAF, the Aid Organization for Refugees and Asylum Seekers in Israel, which asked the Tel Aviv Appeals Court to order the authority to issue residency visas to 16 to 18 year olds from Eritrea and Sudan.

The authority issues temporary 2A5 visas to Eritreans and Sudanese aged 18 or older. These visas protect them from arrest and expulsion and allow them to work in Israel, and must be renewed several times a year. Eritreans and Sudanese caught without valid visas are imprisoned.

But the authority does not issue such visas to minors, who rarely have any kind of official identifying documents and are not recorded in the visas given to their parents. Older teenagers stopped on the street by immigration inspectors are thus often mistaken for adults without valid papers, and are forced to find creative ways to prove that they are in fact minors to avoid being jailed.

The appeal, which was submitted to the court by attorney Osnat Cohen-Lifshitz of the Clinic for Migrants’ Rights at the College of Law and Business in Ramat Gan, states, “The subject of this appeal are those teenage boys and girls who are forced to maneuver in Israel’s public domain with no identifying document and knowingly become lawbreakers but without any choice.“ She noted that she had contacted the Population Authority last year after several complaints had been received from teenagers, but the authority never responded despite several reminders.

Cohen-Lifshitz noted that when teens who look older are confronted by inspectors, trying to persuade them they are minors “often takes a long time, during which the minors are detained — whether in the public domain, in front of everyone, or in the facilities of the respondent.”

The appeal includes two examples of youths detained for lack of a visa. “In one case, the youth was released only because he had with him a school-issued student card. In the other case, the pupil had to call one of his teachers at night so that [the teacher] could convince the inspectors that he was a school pupil and should be let go,” the appeal states.

Another problem is the inability of these youths to work legally, even though many of them need to help support their families. Lacking documentation, teen children of asylum seekers can’t find jobs with orderly employers and are forced to work for abusive ones. The appeal describes one youth who was refused work at a fast-food chain because he had no identity document and another helping support his mother who was fired time after time from jobs with no notice and without being paid what was owed to him.

Lacking identifying documents, these teenagers cannot purchase Rav-Kav public transportation passes at the discount given to minors, nor can they open their own bank accounts. Nor can these high school students take professional enrichment courses at school like their peers. According to the appeal, the refusal of the authority to issue these teenagers visas “is extremely unreasonable, illegal, is contrary to the principle of what’s best for the child and undermines the rights of these minors to equality and freedom of movement.”

“It makes you feel unequal to others; that you don’t have the same rights as everyone else,” a 17-year-old asylum seeker from Eritrea who has been here eight years told Haaretz. “You see your friends working and you can’t, it’s upsetting. The fact that I don’t have an identity document makes me less than my friends.”

He added that when he ordered things online he couldn’t pick them up from the post office. “They told me ‘bring your identity card,’ and I don’t have one. I couldn’t pick up the things I’d ordered,” he said.

Michal Schendar, the youth unit coordinator at ASSAF, says that these teenagers’ problems don’t necessarily end when they turn 18.

“Last year eight teens I’ve been counseling finished 12th grade, but only three have gotten visas so far, even though they’ve turned 18,” she said. “One they can’t find in the computer, and one they still have listed as 17. The records are very unclear.”