State Can Bar Asylum Seekers From Working in Some Cities, Israel's Top Court Rules

The Interior Ministry has the right to ban asylum seekers from employment in cities where there are many of them, but must come up with clear guidelines, Israel's Supreme Court says

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People stand in line at a center providing COVID-19 vaccinations to illegal residents, Tel Aviv, February.
People stand in line at a center providing COVID-19 vaccinations to illegal residents, Tel Aviv, February.Credit: Hadas Parush
Bar Peleg
Bar Peleg

The Interior Ministry has the legal power to impose geographic limitations placed on asylum seekers from Sudan and Eritrea who cannot be deported to their country of origin when it comes to where they can work, the Israeli Supreme Court ruled on Thursday.   

The ruling came in response to an appeal of a 2015 Interior Ministry decision barring asylum seekers – who had been released from the Holot detention center in the south – from working in cities with large concentrations of asylum seekers. 

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Making such a decision was under the purview of the interior minister, the justices ruled – but the court also gave the ministry nine months to develop an orderly set of rules regarding the limitations that are imposed, including clear guidelines on who is to be subject to them.

The court required that the rules include guidelines that will enable asylum seekers to request that the geographic restriction be lifted in their cases, on grounds such as the time elapsed since the restriction was imposed, difficulty making a living in another city or the applicant’s medical condition.

“The Interior Ministry must go back and examine the policy based on which the [initial] decision was made and develop clear criteria regarding it,” the court wrote. The government informed that court that the matter would be taken up with the current interior minister, Ayelet Shaked.

In 2015, the interior minister at the time, Silvan Shalom, decided to bar asylum seekers who had been released from the Holot detention center from working in Tel Aviv or Eilat. The restriction was later extended to the Tel Aviv suburbs of Bnei Brak, Petah Tikva and Netanya as well as to Ashdod and Jerusalem. A year later, one of the asylum seekers who had been released from Holot filed a petition seeking permission to work at a restaurant in Tel Aviv where he had been employed prior to his detention.

The Supreme Court panel, consisting of Justices Daphne Barak-Erez, Isaac Amit and Alex Stein, ruled that the Interior Ministry’s decision demonstrated a proportional approach.

“I do not believe that imposing a limitation relating to a few cities, even main ones, as was done for example in the case of the appellant before us, who was barred from working in Tel Aviv-Jaffa and Eilat, is draconian or disproportionate in and of itself," Barak-Erez wrote. “Tel Aviv-Jaffa is indeed the most significant employment center in Israel, particularly for asylum seekers and illegal residents who in many instances find employment in the fields of tourism and the restaurant industry. But it isn’t the only city in Israel where one can live and work.”

Last month, the government filed an affidavit with the court from the Enforcement and Foreign Administration at the Population and Immigration Authority noting that the restriction currently applies to about 5,000 people. Also noted was that the ban has only been applied to those who were released from the Holot detention center, which was built to house illegal residents and was shut down in 2018 after four years in operation.

Nevertheless, the ministry can impose the limitation on all asylum seekers from Sudan and Eritrea – countries to which they cannot be repatriated – although it should be noted that since the closure of Holot, the limitation has not been imposed on any asylum seekers.

Despite the court’s denial of the appeal, the appellant's lawyers, Tomer Warsha and Asaf Weitzen, said in response to the ruling that the Supreme Court had “accepted our position that there is a difficulty with this Population Administration policy in light of the passage of time since the closure of the Holot facility and in light of other circumstances that have arisen since, for example the coronavirus crisis, and particularly in light of the fact that regulations and clear criteria have not been set on the matter in a manner that has in practice created discrimination.

“The Supreme Court decided to require the state to establish clear regulations with criteria for anyone on whom geographic restrictions are imposed in the future, if at all,” the lawyers wrote. “And we are pleased that it also required that that the state establish the possibility in the regulations for [the asylum seeker] to ask that these limitations be lifted.”

The lawyers expressed regret, however, that the court did not rule that their client should be able to continue to work at the Tel Aviv restaurant where he had been working prior to his detention.

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