Israel Outright Rejects Asylum Requests by Eritreans and Sudanese

After initially ignoring requests from asylum seekers, newly enforced policy now has all those submitted a year after applicant entered Israel automatically denied.

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An African asylum seeker protests for recognition as a refugee, Tel Aviv, Israel, Feb. 11, 2014.
An African asylum seeker protests for recognition as a refugee, Tel Aviv, Israel, Feb. 11, 2014.Credit: Moti Milrod
Ilan Lior
Ilan Lior

The Administration of Population and Immigration in the Interior Ministry has started rejecting asylum requests which were submitted by Eritrean and Sudanese nationals more than a year after entering Israel.

Asylum seekers who submitted their requests over a year after entering the country were automatically rejected, despite the fact that many were not able to submit their requests beforehand, as a newly enforced policy requires.

Until 2012 Israel refused to consider any asylum requests by Eritreans and Sudanese nationals since at that time, they were granted temporary collective protection and not expelled from Israel.

Only in 2012, following amendments to the so-called Anti-Infiltration Law, did the state enable Eritreans and Sudanese, who were held in detention centers, to file asylum requests. Others were permitted to apply for asylum only in 2013, many months after the migration wave to Israel had ceased.

2014 | Southern Israel. Asylum seekers signal their solidarity with hundreds of their fellow migrants through the fence of the Holot detention facility.Credit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz

The administration did not inform the asylum seekers at any stage that it had changed its policy and that they were now permitted to apply for asylum.

In the past two years, thousands of Eritrean and Sudanese nationals submitted asylum requests. But apart from a few who were recognized as refugees, the administration denied all the requests. In most of the Eritreans' cases, the request was denied for the same reason: Desertion from the Eritrean army was not a good enough reason to receive refugee status. The administration did not reply to any requests filed by people from Darfur in western Sudan, although some of them had been submitted more than three years ago.

A clause that came into effect in January 2011 states that “a foreign national who files for political asylum after a year has elapsed since his entry to Israel will be rejected out of hand.” The procedure also says that if “the national gave special reasons for the delay of his application, his request will be examined by the head of a team who will decide whether to accept the request despite the delay.” As far as is known, the administration started making use of this clause only in the summer of 2015.

Last week, an Eritrean asylum seeker held in the Holot detention center appealed the state’s denial of his asylum request. The appeal, filed by attorney Asaf Weitzen of the Center for Refugees and Migrants, said the automatic rejection of asylum requests because of the delay in submitting them was unauthorized and in breach of international law.

The appellant asked that until the state clearly publishes its policy change, it enables Eritreans and Sudanese to submit asylum requests even if they’ve been in Israel for over a year.

The appellant entered Israel in 2010 and was immediately taken to Saharonim prison. He says he immediately said he came to Israel due to the danger he faced in Eritrea. In 2014 he realized he could submit an asylum request and filled forms with the help of volunteers, only to find later on that his forms had not been submitted.

In November 2015, less than a month after he entered Holot, he applied for asylum. In January he was called for an interview and explained why he hadn’t applied earlier. But shortly afterward he was notified that his request was denied because it was “submitted late.”

As Haaretz reported, more than 10,000 asylum requests were still pending in January of this year, filed mostly by Sudanese and Eritreans. Last year the administration handled only 900 requests, all but two of which were denied. Despite the numerous requests, the committee examining them hadn’t convened since June 2015.

The administration commented that “the procedure to handle asylum seekers was published in January 2011 and hasn’t changed.”

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