Israel to Grant Temporary Residency to 300 More Asylum Seekers From Darfur

New step, which follows similar move for 200 Sudanese in June, provides all the rights and benefits of refugee status; an estimated 2,300 Darfurians have submitted asylum requests to stay in Israel

African asylum seekers waiting for work on a street in south Tel Aviv, November 2017 (illustrative).
Meged Gozani

Israel will grant temporary residency status to a second group of 300 asylum seekers from the Darfur region of Sudan.

The government made the announcement as part of its response to a High Court of Justice petition asking the court to order the Population, Immigration and Border Authority to decide on the asylum requests of Darfurians staying in Israel. The decision was made in a meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu some two weeks ago.

Last June, Israel granted temporary residency status to about 200 people from the Darfur region of Sudan. They had submitted requests to be recognized as refugees years ago, but had not received official responses. That decision was made on “humanitarian” grounds.

This was the first time in a decade that a large group of refugees had been awarded residency status by Israel.

Temporary residency status is identical to the status given to someone recognized as a refugee. It provides the holder with the right to work and various social benefits, the most important being national health insurance. They are also able to receive a laissez-passer – a travel permit that allows them to leave Israel and return. The status has no time limit, though the state can revoke it if circumstances change.

Interior Minister Arye Dery, Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit, Population Authority head Shlomo Mor-Yosef and their senior staff attended the meeting with Netanyahu two weeks ago.

Netanyahu and Dery instructed the participants to prepare for granting temporary residency status to another group of Darfurians. In the previous round, residency was granted to those aged 45 and older who entered Israel before 2011 and who had submitted an asylum request. It is still unclear what the criteria will be for this latest group of refugees.

The petition to the High Court was filed by lawyers Michal and Carmel Pomerantz on behalf of 24 asylum seekers from Darfur. The court was scheduled to hold a hearing on the petition two weeks ago, at the same time as Netanyahu called a meeting on the matter. However, this hearing was postponed at the last minute at the behest of the government – and despite the petitioners’ objections. The meeting with Netanyahu was held to formulate the government’s official response.

The government now hopes the decision to grant residency status to another group of Darfurians will stop the High Court from intervening in the matter and make the next hearing, scheduled for Monday, superfluous.

“Thousands of Darfurians and dozens of other asylum seekers are waiting for a decision on their asylum requests, and this new decision is intended to prevent the court from intervening and forcing the interior minister to do so,” said the two lawyers.

The state is trying to preserve the present situation in which they are not making decisions on the asylum requests so they “will be able to deport the [asylum] seekers and lie to the public that they are not refugees,” the lawyers added.

They said they have also submitted an additional 75 people to their petition to the High Court after Haaretz reported that the government intends to grant more people from Darfur refugee status.

Adding to the number of petitioners is meant to send a message to the government that it is impossible to make the petition superfluous without dealing with the principle involved, and the justices will decide on the request at the coming hearing, the Pomerantzes added.

Population Authority data show that over 2,300 Darfurians who have submitted asylum requests are living in Israel. Many of them have been waiting for an answer for years, and until recently the government has ignored their requests almost across the board.

It was revealed earlier this year that the Population Authority has kept secret for over two years an internal assessment prepared by its asylum applications unit, which stated that asylum seekers from Darfur who are not members of Arab tribes are entitled to refugee status in Israel.

The last time Israel awarded refugee status to a large group of people was 2007, when Ehud Olmert was prime minister. At the time, Israel granted residency status to the first 600 refugees who had entered Israel from Darfur. Except for this group, Israel has recognized only one other person from Sudan as a refugee – in his case because of pressure from the attorney general.