Israel Stops Reviewing Sudanese Asylum Seekers' Requests

Interior minister instructs halt in examining requests, saying they must wait until situation in Sudan stabilizes ■ Over 3,000 Sudanese awaiting response to requests

Asylum seekers from Sudan stage a demonstration of support for the ouster of long-ruling autocrat Omar al-Bashir in Tel Aviv, Israel, April, 2019.
Tomer Appelbaum

Israel has recently stopped reviewing Sudanese nationals' requests for asylum over ongoing protests taking place in their country, the state informed the High Court of Justice on Tuesday.

The decision was ordered by Interior Minister Arye Dery following the Foreign Ministry's assessment that demonstrations calling for civilian rule nearly three months after the army forced out long-ruling autocrat Omar al-Bashir "have created uncertainty regarding the dynamic situation in Sudan."

The Population and Immigration Authority has for years been dragging its feet regarding 3,400 asylum requests submitted by Sudanese nationals. The government was supposed to make a decision on the requests within months, but has now halted the examinations of the requests, saying they should be postponed until the situation in Sudan stabilizes.

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The government announced its decision in response to petitions filed with the High Court – one of them filed by attorneys Michal and Carmel Pomerantz, asking to order the state to come to a decision regarding these requests for asylum, and another by lawyer Tomer Warsha, calling to grant the Sudanese asylum seekers a temporary resident status until the states reaches a decision.

The government's response to the petition cited assessments regarding the situation in Sudan by the Foreign Ministry– upon which Dery based the decision after talks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – and senior officials in the Interior and Foreign Ministry, as well as the attorney general.

The Foreign Ministry wrote that Sudan faces a time of political changes that might bring instability. The ministry added this situation might lead to positive changes, but that there is also chance for further deterioration and instability. The ministry also referenced an agreement struck between protesters and the military in Sudan, writing that "it is not yet clear how durable the deal is and how much it will be implemented after it goes into effect." The United Nations force working in Sudan has decided to suspend its withdrawal from the country, in accordance with a Security Council resolution approved in June.   

Since Bashir's ouster in April, more than 120 people protesting the military's seizure of power have been killed. A power-sharing deal was struck last week between protesters and the military, entailing the formation of a joint council comprised of the military and civilian leaders. The agreement states that a military general will head the council for the first 21 months of its existence, after which he will be replaced by a civilian leader for the following 18 months.  

The Foreign Ministry has approached several countries in order to examine their attitude toward the changes Sudan is undergoing after Bashir's ouster. From the responses received so far, it seems other countries haven't changed their stance about Sudanese citizens who are asking for asylum in their territory.

Apart from a single request that has been approved, none of the 3,400 asylum requests filed by refugees from the Darfur, Nuba Mountains and Blue Nile regions have received any response – neither a denial nor an approval. The government has claimed for years that the delay in the process stemmed from a desire to cultivate a "principled and extensive policy," but last October Israel changed its approach and said that it will handle requests on a case-by-case basis. In order to do that, the state argued, it needed to formulate basic guidelines to examine all asylum requests. 

In order to begin the process, Israel set up a special team last December that was tasked with re-examining some 1,500 asylum requests, after the Immigration Authority admitted that the initial interviews the migrants underwent were not sufficiently in-depth.

Haaretz has now learned that the government has stopped the special team's work for an undefined period of time. Dery has decided to instruct employees who were examining asylum requests by Sudanese nationals to instead work on requests by Eritrean asylum seekers. 

In its response to the High Court petitions, the government wrote that there is a problem in handling the asylum requests "because we have yet to cultivate a clear enough assessment of what is happening in Sudan."

According to the state, "the lack of clarity in regards to the dynamic situation in Sudan and its repercussions on the process of handling asylum requests does not allow at this time to decide on guidelines to examine the asylum requests of migrants from Sudan."

The government asked to postpone hearing on the issue until 2020 and to submit its position 45 days before the hearing – despite the fact that the court ruled in March that the government must respond within two months.

The government also informed the court of two policy changes that are meant to benefit the asylum seekers, but which in practice change nothing.

One policy change is to to remove text from visas granted to refugees from the Darfur and Nuba Mountains regions and Eritrea that states that they can't work in Israel. In practice, the state already allows the asylum seekers to work in the county.    

The other change the government announced it would grant work permits to 300 asylum seekers from Sudan a visa that allows them to work, instead of a temporary visa they currently receive. But there is no significant difference between both visas, neither of which grants social rights in Israel.