Israel will begin next week to grant temporary residence to some 2,440 asylum seekers from Sudan, before deciding whether to approve their asylum requests, in what activists describe as a long overdue development toward securing basic rights for refugees.
The move follows a High Court of Justice ruling from April, demanding the state grant the Sudanese temporary residence by the end of December. This would give asylum seekers most rights given to Israeli citizens barring voting rights.
The vast majority of Sudanese asylum seekers in Israel entered the country before 2017, some five years after Israel completed the construction of a fence along its border with Egypt.
The state told the Appeals Court on Thursday that by the end of January it will grant six-months residence to all the asylum seekers from the war-stricken provinces of Darfur, the Nuba Mountains and the Blue Nile who had applied for asylum before June 2017. After six months, the asylum seekers’ residence will be renewed on an individual basis.
Israel's response to the Appeals Court regarding the refugees’ status indicates that Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked is in the process of drafting criteria on granting Sudanese asylum requests, a move Israel has largely avoided over the past years.
The Population Authority is due to publish next week the full list of asylum seekers eligible for temporary residence, in keeping with the High Court of Justice’s ruling, the state said. The migrants will be contacted to pick up their certificates by the end of January.
Following the court’s demand to grant temporary residence to Sudanese asylum seekers by the end of December, the Population Authority accelerated their security checks and didn’t interview them, as it had in the past, but only passed their names to the police and General Security Service. Anyone with a criminal or security record will not be granted refugee status.
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The High Court ruled that the state had dragged its feet in answering the asylum requests of refugees fleeing the genocide in Darfur, the Nuba Mountains and the Blue Nile. The earliest request was submitted more than 10 years ago. The judges ruled that unless the state decides on the requests made before June 2017 individually, it will have to grant temporary residence to all the applicants until they receive an answer.
Munim Haroun, who runs a Sudanese community center in Israel, said that “this is a significant step for us, as some of us have been waiting for more than eight years for the state to decide on our asylum requests. We’d hoped and expected the state to acknowledge the genocide and the atrocities we’ve fled from and to grant us the rights we deserve as survivors of the longest genocide in the 21st century, without the need for the High Court’s decisions.”
Laywer Tomer Warsha, who represented Sudanese petitioners to the High Court, told Haaretz: “We are happy for the self-evident – keeping the High Court’s verdict – and we’re even happier for the triumph of human rights, that we’ve prevented forbidden discrimination, and that people who have been living for years as legal refugees in Israel will receive after a prolonged struggle the minimum rights they deserve.”
Laywer Nimrod Avigal of HIAS Israel, who also represented the petitioners, said that “alongside the joy of people who have finally received the residence status according to the court’s decision, many people remain with no rights only because they filed their requests a day, a week or a month late. We hope the state drafts a fair and egalitarian policy and that the authorities examine and decide on the asylum requests as they do in states that adhere to the Refugee Convention.”