The Interior Ministry's Population and Immigration Authority has admitted to the High Court of Justice that its examination of requests for asylum in Israel by asylum seekers from the Darfur region of Sudan has not been sufficiently thorough. The authority said it would reexamine some 1,500 requests from applicants in Israel from Darfur.
The asylum seekers have already been interviewed but professionals at the authority have found that the interviews “still require supplemental information, because they were not in-depth enough for the purposes of making a decision on a request for political asylum,” the court was told. Immigration Authority officials also found that not enough attention was paid “to changes in circumstances over time.”
In requesting asylum, applicants must show a well-founded fear of persecution if they were to return to their home countries. Sudan has been wracked in recent years by war, including civil war, and the Darfur region has been one of the most severely affected. In October, the UN News website reported that security had improved in Darfur, but citing the head of a peacekeeping mission, it noted that intercommunal tensions were still high amid clashes over land and livestock.
Acknowledging that supplemental interviews are required to make a decision on asylum requests from applicants from the Darfur, Nuba Mountains and Blue Nile regions of Sudan, this is the first time the government has openly admitted that interviews conducted previously with the asylum seekers were inadequate. The Population and Immigration Administration said that it has filed a request with the court this week for an extension of time to complete its work and would provide an update when new information is available.
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In 2015, the government told the High Court of Justice that it would decide on most of the asylum requests, including all of those submitted before February 2015, by February 2016, but it did not meet its commitment. In October of this year, the High Court held a hearing on the petitions in which Supreme Court President Esther Hayut gave the state 30 days to submit a timetable and work plan for examination of the asylum requests of applicants from Darfur. At the hearing, Hayut criticized the state’s claim that there wasn’t enough manpower to examine the requests, and commenting: "It’s impossible to continue with this endless waiting.”
In October, as a result of a decision by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Interior Minister Arye Dery and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, the government also informed the High Court that it would no longer grant special humanitarian status to Sudanese asylum from the Darfur region. In mid-2016, Israel had begun allowing about 800 Sudanese asylum seekers to work in Israel and receive social service benefits such as health insurance, as well as permission to leave Israel and then come back into the country. But in October of this year, the government said it had changed its policy and would examine every asylum request individually. In response, the High Court ordered the government to present a detailed timetable within 30 days over its plans to examine the Darfuris' asylum requests. The issue is before the court as a result of two petitions, one seeking to have the state rule on all asylum requests by Darfuris and the other seeking to grant them residency status in Israel, at least until their asylum requests are ruled on.
On Sunday, the government informed the court that to examine all of these asylum requests, it had established a six-person, specially trained Population Authority team that would examine asylum requests from Sudanese from the Darfur, Nuba Mountain and Blue Nile regions. Of 35,000 pending asylum requests before the Population Authority, about 3,400 are from asylum seekers from these areas. With the exception of a single asylum request that was granted, no rulings have been issued on any of the 3,400 requests. Most of the Darfuri asylum seekers have been waiting for a response for years.
Despite the High Court’s request, the government has not yet provided a timetable for examining the asylum requests. According to the government’s statement to the court, it was only on Sunday of this week that the team began conducting interviews with the asylum seekers. The Population and Immigration Authority said it thought for the first six months, the team members would each be able to handle one claim per day, noting that the interviews themselves generally takes a number of hours. After a few months, the time needed to evaluate the requests was expected to decline. The government said it will first examine some 100 to 150 asylum requests with the goal of “establishing a broad factual foundation for the guiding principles in deciding on the asylum requests of this group." That, the state said, should take about 45 days.
The government asked for 60 days before briefing the court on its progress. In addition, the state said it would continue to examine whether the situation in Sudan has changed. If it has sufficiently improved, it could provide the basis for deporting thousands of asylum seekers back to their native country.
One of the lawyers who filed the High Court petition, Michal Pomerantz, called the state’s announcement "a farce," noting that the state had already violated its prior commitments to the court. "Now they are informing us that they do not have any time estimate for dealing with the requests, that they intend to reconduct all the asylum interviews they had held and that asylum seekers will be forced to continue to wait," and lack the benefits they are seeking while they wait. The state, she said, is quick to deny asylum requests but not to grant such requests, which take years.