Israeli Court Delays Decision on Darfuri Asylum Requests Over Developments in Sudan Ties

Issue of repatriating Darfuris raised in recent talks between senior Israeli, Sudanese and U.S. officials, sources tell Haaretz

Lee Yaron
Lee Yaron
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Sudanese asylum seekers march in Tel Aviv following the death of Omar al-Bashir, April 2019.
Sudanese asylum seekers march in Tel Aviv following the death of Omar al-Bashir, April 2019.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum
Lee Yaron
Lee Yaron

The High Court of Justice has granted the state a three-month extension in determining the status of asylum seekers from Darfur, after the state told the court of secret developments in the relations between Israel and Sudan, which could impact the results of the petition filed on their behalf.

Court President Esther Hayut, Justice Yael Vilner and Justice George Kara decided that after viewing the classified material presented to them, they would allow the state to further update the court in three months, before they rule on the petition. In March of 2019, the court issued a temporary injunction ordering the state to explain why it was not giving temporary resident status to refugees from Darfur before a final decision is made on their status. Since then, the state has repeatedly postponed replying to the court.

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Sources told Haaretz that in recent talks between senior Israeli, Sudanese and American officials, held in an attempt to normalize relations between the two states, the issue of repatriating these refugees was raised. This precludes determining their status as refugees and has led the state to ask the court for a deferment in ruling on the petition, which was filed three years ago.

According to the UN convention relating to the status of refugees and to statements made in recent months by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, even if a peace agreement is reached, removing one of the obstacles to repatriation, Israel is still obligated to examine all applications for refugee status. The convention prohibits deporting anyone to a country in which his life or freedom are in danger.

Last Monday, the court discussed two petitions relating to Darfuris. One was filed by attorneys Michal and Carmel Pomeranz, asking the court to instruct the state to recognize Darfuris in Israel as refugees. The other was filed by the Tomer Warsha law firm, asking that they be given temporary resident status. The state presented its classified information regarding recent developments.

There are currently 6,285 Sudanese citizens in Israel, constituting one fifth of all asylum seekers. They fled the genocide that has been taking place in Darfur, the Nuba mountains and the Blue Nile region since 2003. In other places around the world, Darfuris are usually granted refugee status. In Israel, 4,500 of them have filed for refugee status, but have been waiting for an answer for years, some of them for over a decade. So far, Israel has not replied to their requests either way. Only in one case was refugee status granted. Thus, the applicants are in Israel without status and with no rights. Their condition has worsened since the pandemic erupted, with no social support network available to them. Aid organizations report an increase in requests for food and medicine by this group.

Attorney Tomer Warsha says that events in Sudan and a potential peace agreement are irrelevant to the petition: “The state has pulled another rabbit out of its hat in an attempt to gain time, but this is a baseless legal trick. If there is a peace agreement, the state will have to examine all the requests it refrained from looking at, which will take years. Therefore, the right thing is to grant them temporary residency. This will give them some rights while maintaining the state’s control.”

Attorneys Michal and Carmel Pomeranz told Haaretz that “the court was unconvinced by the state’s arguments as to why these refugees were waiting for such a long time, but still granted a three-month extension, during which the applicants remain without basic rights during a difficult period.”

There have been reports of several massacres in Darfur in recent months, with thousands fleeing to neighboring Chad. Even after the temporary government in Sudan and a coalition of rebel groups signed a peace agreement in August, ending the long civil war that started during the rule of deposed president Omar al-Bashir, there are reports of violence. The joint UN and African Union task force reported the death of dozens of civilians in West Darfur last July.

Sudan’s caretaker president, Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, was responsible for arming the Janjaweed militias perpetrating the genocide, and served as chief-of-staff under al-Bashir. According to Inbal Ben-Yehuda, a researcher on Sudan at the Forum on Regional Thinking, “the violence we still see in Darfur is happening after two signed peace agreements. The current agreement should also be viewed with caution. The signatories are people directly responsible for violence, murder and ethnic cleansing, who have never taken responsibility for their actions.”

Usumain Baraka, a Sudanese asylum seeker who heads the African Students Organization in Israel, said that “it is clear to all of us who live in Israel that we can’t go back to a country headed by him [Burhan].” He added that nothing has changed in in Darfur since the new caretaker government took power: “It is clear to all of us that the situation is anything but stable; a return to Sudan now means an immediate danger to our lives.”

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