Israel's Criteria for Granting Darfuri Asylum Seekers Residency Revealed

Israel to grant residency only to Darfuris aged 45 and older who arrived in Israel no later than October 2011

Asylum seeker children, mostly from Eritrea, wear costumes during the Purim parade festival in Tel Aviv, Israel, Wednesday, March 8, 2017. The Jewish holiday of Purim commemorates the Jews' salvation from genocide in ancient Persia, as recounted in the Book of Esther, which is read in synagogues. Other customs include: sending food parcels and giving charity; dressing up in masks and costumes; eating a festive meal; and public celebrations.
Ariel Schalit/AP

More than a month after announcing that 200 asylum seekers from Darfur would be granted temporary residency, Interior Ministry Arye Dery has finally announced the eligibility criteria: Residency will be granted only to Darfuris aged 45 and older who arrived in Israel no later than October 2011.

They must also have filed formal asylum requests, have no criminal record and not be suspected of involvement in terror.

The decision to grant residency to 200 people from Sudan’s Darfur region, which Haaretz reported in early June, was made by Dery and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu under pressure from Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit. The number 200 was chosen more or less randomly, as a compromise between Dery, who wanted to postpone any decision, and Mendelblit, who wanted to grant residency to a much larger group.

This is the first time in a decade that Israel has granted residency to a large group of asylum seekers. The last time was when then-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert granted refugee status to the first 600 Darfuris who entered the country. Aside from them, Israel has recognized only one Sudanese national as a refugee.

MK David Amsalem, left, with Interior Ministry Arye Dery at the Knesset Interior Committee meeting on asylum seekers in Jerusalem, June 21, 2017.
Emil Salman

The eligibility criteria were chosen to ensure that no more than 180 Darfuris qualified, since 17 others have already been promised residency pursuant to legal proceedings. Those 17 don’t necessarily meet the stated criteria.

In a letter to Deputy Attorney General Dina Zilber, the head of the Population, Immigration and Border Authority’s enforcement department, Yossi Edelstein, wrote that the criteria “are based on objective, egalitarian data capable of defining a clear, closed group.”

It’s logical to prefer people who have already made an effort to arrange their legal status, hence the requirement that they must have filed an asylum application, Edelstein wrote.

As for the age and date of entry criteria, since residency is being granted for humanitarian reasons, “it seems proper to give priority to those who have been in Israel for a longer time,” he wrote, and also to older people, who are more in need of the benefits that accompany legal residency.

According to PIBA, some 2,800 Darfuris are currently in Israel, and 2,300 have applied for asylum. But until now, PIBA has ignored their applications, and many have been awaiting an answer for years.

In his letter, Edelstein also reiterated the state’s position as detailed in a brief submitted to the Tel Aviv District Court. He said it is awaiting a Supreme Court ruling on the legality of its policy of deporting Darfuri and Eritrean asylum seekers to Rwanda and Uganda. Once that ruling is issued, it will decide what to do with all those who haven’t yet received residency.

Temporary residency granted for humanitarian reasons gives the recipient the same rights he would get as a recognized refugee, including a work permit, subsidized health care, welfare benefits and a laissez-passer for travel to and from Israel.

Attorney Michal Pomerantz, who asked the High Court of Justice last month to order the state to decide on Darfuri asylum requests, blasted the eligibility criteria.

“These criteria show that the quota for granting visas was set arbitrarily, since the criteria were set only a month after the granting of the visas was announced, and they were apparently meant to reduce the number of Darfuri asylum seekers to the number of visas it had been decided to grant,” she said. “The meaning of these criteria is that most of the asylum seekers, who have been waiting for many years for a decision on their applications, and most of whom are younger than the age stipulated, will be forced to continue waiting.”

These criteria also bolster the claim that Dery granted residency to a limited group of Darfuris “mainly to stave off judicial criticism by the district court,” Pomerantz added, saying the fact that Darfuris who went to court were granted residency despite being much younger than the cutoff age “speaks for itself.”

In January, it emerged that for more than two years, PIBA had been hiding a legal opinion stating that non-Arab Darfuris were entitled to refugee status. Addressing the Knesset Interior Committee last month, Dery said, “Sudan is an enemy country, but the people who came from there fled Sudan because they were being persecuted.”