Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and two key ministers have decided that the state will no longer grant so-called humanitarian status to asylum seekers from Sudan’s Darfur region, sources told Haaretz.
Instead, the state is examining whether the situation in Sudan has improved to the extent that deportation is possible.
Over the past year and a half, Israel has granted humanitarian status to 800 asylum seekers from Sudan, a status equivalent to refugee status. It lets asylum seekers work and receive benefits such as health insurance; they are also allowed to exit and re-enter the country.
Over the past two weeks two meetings have been held to discuss the Darfuris; Netanyahu and the other two ministers responsible for the latest decision – Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked and Interior Minister Arye Dery – were on hand. Also present were the attorney general, the head of the National Security Council and the director of the Population and Immigration Authority.
The meetings were held ahead of a High Court hearing due Monday on petitions requesting the granting of humanitarian status. There are currently around 3,500 Darfuris in Israel; some 2,300 have requested asylum, but all but one have waited for years without receiving a response.
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The state has told the High Court of Justice that it has not responded because of a staffing shortage and problems finding a person to head a committee dealing with refugees.
Over the past year and a half the state has said that it has not yet taken a formal stance on the matter. Attorneys Carmel Pomerantz and Michal Pomerantz have demanded that the state be ordered to respond to all asylum requests by Darfuris.
Meanwhile, a petition by attorney Tomer Warsha requests that all Darfuris in Israel receive temporary-residency status, at least until their cases are reviewed. Last December the state requested an extension so that it could craft a policy on the issue.
It now says that each case will be examined individually, along with requests by asylum seekers from the Nuba and Blue Nile regions. Since each case is now under individual review, the state argues that the awarding of humanitarian status is no longer applicable. It says the situation in Sudan will be re-evaluated based on a British Home Office report.
Last week, The UN News reported that though security had improved in Darfur, intercommunal tensions were still high amid clashes over land and livestock. The website cited the head of the joint United Nations-African Union peacekeeping mission.
In Israel, a High Court hearing was held last December; the justices said the state was foot-dragging in developing a policy on the Darfuris. The court’s president, Esther Hayut, demanded a timetable but received none. The state’s representative, attorney Hadas Eran, has apparently stalled, saying the issue is under investigation.
Hayut said this has been going on for two years and asked Eran for a detailed timetable. As long as there was no policy, the state would have to consider the asylum requests, Hayut said.
“Why aren’t you formulating a policy, even though that’s your excuse for not discussing the asylum requests?” she asked.
Eran replied that hundreds of Darfuris had been awarded temporary status, thus some action had been taken.