Asylum Seekers With Israeli Partners Claim State Bias on Road to Naturalization

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Mona, an Israeli citizen, and Habtum, an Eritrean asylum seeker struggle to attain legal status.
Mona, an Israeli citizen, and Habtum, an Eritrean asylum seeker struggle to attain legal status.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

A law firm that represents asylum seekers says the Interior Ministry imposes unreasonable demands on Eritrean and Sudanese nationals with Israeli partners who apply for legal status. The Population, Immigration and Border Authority says they must present identifying documents from their home country, which most asylum seekers lack, in order to become naturalized citizens.

In many cases, it was unclear what documents were required of asylum seekers with Israeli domestic partners who sought official status in Israel. Only after an administrative appeal by attorney Tal Steiner of the Tomer Warsha law firm did the agency issue directives, in August 2015.

The directive clearly states that Eritrean or Sudanese nationals who entered Israel illegally are not required to present full documents as a condition for applying for naturalization.

If the asylum seeker has no documents, agency officials are to interview the couple to verify whether the relationship is genuine and submit an evaluation to the visa department, which then issues a six-month visa. Eritrean and Sudanese asylum seekers receive such visas in any event, in order to be allowed to work, even though the visa explicitly says it is not a work permit.

“The couple must be informed in writing that the naturalization process cannot begin without an identifying document,” the directive says. Asylum seekers with Israeli partners who can present a passport or other identification may receive a visa that allows them to work in Israel and to receive basic social benefits. To obtain temporary resident status additional documents are needed, including a valid passport, proof of a clean legal record and a birth certificate. In most cases, Eritrean and Sudanese asylum seekers are unable to obtaining these documents.

Until the directives were issued, the agency rejected outright all applications for official status by people who did not have an identifying document, and even with the directives, agency officials sometimes still refuse to accept applications in such cases.

“Withholding status from a foreign partner is first of all an insult to the Israeli partner, who feels his country is disregarding him and disallowing him a proper and normal life,” says Tomer Warsha. The fact that it took almost a year to arrange a proper procedure and that the population bureaus still avoid applying it is no less infuriating, Warsha added.

Mona, an Israeli citizen, and Habtum, an Eritrean asylum seeker struggle to attain legal status. Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

Warsha’s firm is representing Mona, an Israeli citizen, and Habtum, an Eritrean asylum seeker. They met at the nursing home where they both worked and were married a year ago in the sharia Islamic religious court in Be’er Sheva.

The couple then sought to initiate the naturalization process for Habtum, but were turned down because Habtum did not have a passport and other documents. Although they successfully passed the interview to prove their relationship, and provided their marriage certificate, the authority rejected Habtum’s application for a work permit. He now holds a six-month visa, of the kind issued to most Eritrean and Sudanese asylum seekers, which does not grant him basic social benefits.

“I’m not even thinking about having children because I don’t know what will happen to us,” Mona told Haaretz. “They know what they went through and why they fled here, but every time it’s the same questions: ‘Why did you get married?’

In a statement, the Popuation, Immigration and Border Authority said: “The claim is unfounded and entirely overlooks the cases dealt with in practice by the authority’s bureaus.

“The Population Authority formulates individual solutions in every case as much as possible. More than once lenient decisions have been made in requests for official status by couples and we will continue to work in this way in the future.”

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