Israel Failing to Process Asylum Requests, Says Deputy Attorney General

Acceptance rate of requests by asylum seekers from Eritrea and Sudan stands at less than 0.1%.

African asylum seekers at Holot detention center in the Negev.
Eli Hershkovitz

The deputy attorney general, Dr. Dina Zilber, has admitted that Israel is failing to process the asylum requests of Eritrean and Sudanese asylum seekers.

“I don’t intend to pretty things up. The state has to improve in this regard on the subject of implementation,” Zilber said Tuesday night in response to a question by Haaretz during a meeting on the asylum seekers issue at the College of Law and Business in Ramat Gan.

“There is no justification for the fact that a chairman of the refugees committee has yet to be appointed. There is no justification for the fact that the commitment the state declared before the High Court of Justice about processing and the rate of asylum requests, and completion of the process, are not being carried out.”

Zilber, the head of the consultancy department in the Justice Ministry, discussed data published in Haaretz two months ago, according to which over 10,000 asylum requests, most of them by Eritreans and Sudanese, are awaiting answers from the state. Some of them have waited a long time.

In addition, it has been more than eight months since Avi Himi stepped down as chairman of the committee examining the asylum requests, without there being a replacement or the committee convening. The deputy attorney general also discussed the state’s promise to the High Court a year ago to complete within a year the processing of some 3,500 asylum requests by Eritreans and Sudanese who had been waiting for a response. Despite its written commitment, the state has only replied to a quarter of all requests, and that includes those not from Eritrea or Sudan.

“The state has a supreme interest in processing asylum requests and establishing once and for all its claim whether the vast majority of these people are economic labor migrants or people who meet the legal parameters of the refugee convention and definition of refugee,” she said. “It is a fundamental issue that stands at the base of the argument.”

The Justice Ministry previously pressured the Interior Ministry to handle the requests, she said, but to no avail. “There are many explanations – interior ministers changed,” she said, noting the refugee committee chair depends on the minister. “I don’t want to go there ... The Justice Ministry also raised this flag several times before the Interior Ministry and pointed out its obligation to quickly move this matter forward.”

The High Court noted in its ruling last August that the state was holding asylum seekers for an unreasonably long time at the Holot Detention Center; the justices noted that the pace of processing asylum requests since September 2014 had failed to pick up from an already slow level. Despite the criticism, the pace has remained slow since then.

The state only responded to 909 requests, rejecting all but two of them, both involving Eritreans. Many of the asylum seekers who filed requests remain in Holot. The state has not responded to any requests by former Darfur residents, even though some of them were filed three years ago. The acceptance rate of requests by asylum seekers from Eritrea and Sudan has been less than 0.1%, although the rate is tens of percentage points in Western countries.