Israel to Give Teenage Asylum Seekers Visas, Minister Says

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An African migrant covers his mouth with tape during a protest in front of the U.S. embassy, demanding asylum and work rights from the Israeli government in Tel Aviv, Israel.Credit: AP

The Interior Ministry has announced a new policy to ease the lives of young asylum seekers, but refugee rights activists fear the ministry might drag its feet in implementing the change.

In response to a court challenge, Interior Minister Arye Dery has ordered the ministry’s Population and Immigration Authority to issue visas to asylum seekers age 16 and up — instead of only to those aged 18 and up. The visas confirm that the holders can remain in the country, thus protecting them against deportation and enabling them to work.

Children who sought asylum in Israel, were repatriated and are now in Uganda.Credit: Jenn Isackov

The authority had previously refused to issue visas to children of asylum seekers making them subject to arrest, and depriving them of basic rights. Most young people from Eritrea and Sudan, who make up a large portion of the asylum seekers, lack any official identity papers. At times they have been stopped by immigration inspectors and asked to prove that they are under aged 18, and detained if they can’t. In the absence of visas, many were also been forced to work in exploitative conditions.

The decision followed an appeal filed by a lawyer from the migrant rights clinic at the College of Law and Business in Ramat Gan, but the Population Authority said it would take time to implement the decision in full. The expansion of the visa program came as the result of a request from Osnat Cohen-Lifshitz of the migrant rights clinic and followed an appeal after the Population Authority initially failed to respond. Two weeks ago, however, Cohen-Lifshitz received notice from the authority stating that the matter was brought to Dery’s attention and that he had decided to have the visas program expanded to those 16 and over subject to certain conditions.

Cohen-Lifshitz, who filed the appeal on behalf of the Aid Organization for Refugees and Asylum Seekers in Israel, said that although the new policy should be welcomed, sometimes such a move is an effort to avoid judicial oversight, and implementation of the policy change could take a long time if it ever occurs.

“When it involves minors, foot-dragging has particularly serious consequences. Every day in which the current policy continues deepens the unnecessary harm to young people. It would be appropriate for the Population Authority to present a brief and clear timetable to the court until the issuance of the visas to the minors begins and that it not make do with declarations,” she said.

Michal Schendar, who is the youth unit coordinator at Aid Organization for Refugees and Asylum Seekers, said the new policy will make the lives of many young people from migrant families easier.

“This decision will allow them to get what they are entitled to by law – to open a bank account, to issue a Rav-Kav [public transportation payment card], to work legally and of course it will remove the fear that they have constantly had of being unnecessarily arrested and detained in the absence of an identity document. I hope that the Interior Ministry carries out this decision as soon as possible and hope that this document will be adapted to young people studying in the Israeli school system,” she said, adding that they should be granted long-term visas so that they don’t have to miss school to get a visa.

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