Israel Lifts Protection of Congolese Migrants, Set to Deport Hundreds

Interior Minister Arye Deri decides to nix special status of Congolese migrants who fled to Israel from violent conflict in their homeland ■ Decision to come into effect in January 2019

File photo: Men wait in front of the entrance to Israel's Immigration and Population Authority, 2018.
Moti Milrod

The Interior Ministry's Population and Immigration Authority has lifted a temporary ban that protected Congolese nationals residing in Israel from deportation and has given citizens of the Democratic Republic of Congo 90 days to leave the country.

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The Hotline for Refugees and Migrants, an organization devoted to refugees' rights in Israel, said no announcement was issued to the Congolese community in the country. There are hundreds of asylum seekers in Israel from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which was known as Zaire under a military dictatorship in 1971-1997.

On Sunday, Interior Minister Arye Dery made the policy change after the Foreign Ministry determined that there was nothing preventing sending back migrants to the DRC. Officials at the Population and Immigration Ministry said that individuals from the DRC in Israel should make preparations to leave the country within 90 days, meaning no later than January 5, 2019.

 As a result, the population authority is not granting Congolese nationals residency permits extending beyond that date and has made it clear that it will take steps to deport those remaining in Israel beyond that.

For its part, the Population Authority said in response: "First of all, the announcement was posted on the Population Authority website in the languages relevant to the target population and as far as we know is seen by thousands of users and is certainly not 'confidential.' It is an official channel of communications and is therefore used to release announcements to the public. We wish to make clear that asylum requests from Congolese are examined on an individual basis, as are all asylum requests and this has no connection with the lifting of group protection. Beyond that, the decision [to lift the group protection] is based on a professional opinion carried out by the Foreign Ministry and any claim to the contrary is baseless."

Until now, asylum seekers from four countries – Sudan, South Sudan, Eritrea and the Democratic Republic of the Congo – had been given temporary protection against deportation. The protection was conferred upon the Congolese nearly two decades ago due to fighting in their country. Elections are due to be held in two months in the DRC, which could result in civil war at a time when violent clashes and even war crimes are being committed there and where there have been repeated outbreaks of the Ebola virus.

The DRC has for decades been suffering from conflict between rebel groups, which massacres killing over 200 civilians this year in and around the city of Beni, where health workers' efforts to combat a deadly Ebola outbreak are based. According to authorities, there have been 130 confirmed Ebola cases, including 74 deaths, since the outbreak was declared on August 1.

Insecurity is a major challenge to health workers. Several armed groups roam the heavily populated region near Uganda, carrying out attacks and causing an estimated one million people to be displaced in North Kivu province alone.

The World Health Organization, which last week announced that the risk of Ebola’s spread over Congo’s border was “very high” after cases were confirmed near Uganda, now says the outbreak is at a “critical point.” The WHO director-general, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, has expressed concern about the virus’ spread into inaccessible “red zones” where armed groups have control.

Human Rights Watch on Thursday said more than 235 people have been killed in the Beni area this year in attacks with guns, axes or machetes. More than 165 others have been kidnapped. In the past four years more than 1,000 people have died. The country's next general elections are scheduled to be held on December 23, over two years after they were supposed to occur. 

Current reports from the United Kingdom's immigration authorities state that opponents of the Congolese regime are in real danger of persecution by government authorities. The reports noted the systematic use of rape as a military tactic in areas of conflict and the risk of forced enlistment of women and girls. Last week, Dr. Denis Mukwege, a Congolese gynecologist who has treated tens of thousands of women who were victims of sexual violence during the Second Congo War, which broke out in 1998, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his work. Mukwege is a harsh critic of the current regime.

Joseph Kabila, who has been president of the DRC since 2001, during the Second Congo War, is not running in December's upcoming election, but the opposition in the country is concerned that the candidate running from his party will do his bidding and that in practice, Kabila's regime will remain in power. 

The Hotline for Refugees and Migrants said it deems the Population Authority's decision to lift the collective protection provided to Congolese in Israel as "another failure," and claimed that the agency has been dragging out the process of considering the asylum requests of 208 Congolese nationals "and now it is demanding that they return to a dangerous country where the situation has still not stabilized."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.