State Comptroller Joseph Shapira harshly criticized Israel’s handling of asylum requests in his annual report Tuesday, noting that since 2009 only 52 of the 55,433 requests submitted had been granted.
Only 10 of these were from Sudanese or Eritrean nationals, while the processing of 29,783 of the requests had not been completed by the end of last year.
According to Shapira, the services offered to asylum seekers are extremely deficient, and there are substantial delays in handling requests – some of which are rejected out of hand due to delays in submission. He said the failure to make decisions on applications from asylum seekers from Sudan’s Darfur region constituted “a very serious defect that seriously undermines their rights.”
Shapira noted that officials from the UNHCR refugee agency were not invited to discussions by an Israeli advisory committee; he called this “a blow to transparency.” He said decisive action was needed by the Interior Ministry and its Population, Immigration and Border Authority; he called on these agencies to ensure prompt and effective processing of asylum requests and a safeguarding of petitioners’ rights.
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Noting that Israel in its early years was among the countries that established the UN Refugee Convention, Shapira said Israel must consider the convention “a compass concerning those requesting an examination of their refugee status, due to the historical events that led to [the convention’s] signing, and because it is a Jewish and democratic state.”
Shapira said the “deficiencies in the Population Authority’s handling of asylum requests in recent years can be interpreted as a failure by Israel to honor and implement the international commitments it took upon itself.”
He noted that many asylum requests were submitted as many as eight years ago. While the average period for processing applications was eight and a half months, a significant number of applications went unanswered for years.
The comptroller called the handling of requests by asylum seekers since 2009 “a sequence of failures.” “Until 2013 the Population Authority did not handle asylum requests submitted by foreigners who could not be deported, and afterward the authority did not abide by the declaration it made at the High Court of Justice” that processing would be completed of thousands of requests that had not been handled for years.
The report noted that even when the Population Authority stepped up its efforts, this was not enough to reduce the gap between the number of requests and the number processed.
Shapira also said that despite warnings from the courts in 2015, the Population Authority had not set a timetable to handle asylum applications. He said the situation had also worsened due to a sharp increase in requests by Ukrainians and Georgians.
The report noted that the authorities “violated the obligation to act with decency” by rejecting requests out of hand because of delays in submission that were not the fault of the asylum seekers. In 2016, it noted, the Population Authority changed its policy regarding late requests and began to deny them without informing the petitioners of the policy change.
The comptroller said that over about two months, some 1,620 such requests were summarily rejected because they had been filed more than a year after the asylum seeker’s date of entry into Israel.
The report specifically addressed the failure in dealing with the plight of Darfurian applicants. Between 2009 and 2017, about 2,500 Darfurians submitted asylum requests. During this period, decisions were made in only six cases. In discussions led by the prime minister, it was eventually decided to grant refugee status to a few hundred Darfurians for humanitarian reasons. No decision was made regarding other Darfurian asylum seekers.
Shapira said the serious delay in processing about 1,600 asylum requests from Darfurians “seriously undermines the rights of natives of that region to recognition as refugees,” adding that the granting of refugee status for humanitarian reasons to several hundred asylum seekers was not a sufficient solution.
The report also said the state had not let UNHCR officials be present at deliberations of the Israeli advisory committee for over four years due to their criticism of the government’s policy, even though their involvement is supposed to be an integral part of processing asylum seekers’ requests.
The role of the UNCHR on the committee includes legal opinions and interpretations of the refugee convention, along with information on the asylum seekers’ home countries and individual cases of persecution.
The Foreign Ministry told the State Comptroller’s Office that it was recommending the interior minister and Population Authority to stop inviting UNHCR officials to the advisory committee meetings because the agency had submitted a request to present its opinion as “a friend of the court” (not a party to the case) in a petition on migrants illegally crossing the Israeli border.