Israel Stalls on Promise of Temporary Residency to 200 Darfurian Asylum-seekers

Sources say that the number 200 was totally random in the agreement to give some status and there is no criteria to decide who will get residency

Darfurian refugees at Ben-Gurion Airport before taking off for Sudan in 2011. Israeli officials claimed they left voluntarily despite the risks, but threats and financial inducements are systematic.
Daniel Bar-On

Although Israel announced two weeks ago that it would give temporary residency status to 200 asylum-seekers from Sudan’s Darfur region, it has yet to draw up criteria for deciding who will get this status, which makes one eligible for such benefits as healthcare coverage.

Sources say that the number 200 was totally random. Interior Minister Arye Dery sought to put off making a decision on the Darfur asylum-seekers until the High Court of Justice ruled on a petition that had been filed against the policy of expelling them to Uganda and Rwanda. In the end, under pressure from Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit, Dery agreed to grant a small number of them residency, with the two compromising at 200. Dery told Haaretz last week that the decision to grant status to 200 Darfurians was “a first stage.”

The only ones who know they will be getting temporary residency are the 20 Sudanese nationals who appealed to the district court after their requests for refugee status had been ignored for lengthy periods. The state told the court that these appellants would be granted legal status even before criteria were established. As a result, many other asylum-seekers have hired lawyers, believing they will only get residency if they have legal representation.

According to data recently released by the Population and Immigration Authority, 2,312 requests by Darfurians for asylum are awaiting a decision. The unit evaluating asylum requests has conducted extensive interviews with 80 percent of them, but not a single recommendation has been passed on to the interior minister’s advisory committee on refugees.

In other countries, a very high percentage of Darfurian asylum seekers have been granted refugees status. To date Israel has recognized only one asylum-seeker from Darfur as a refuge – Mutasim Ali, a leader of the asylum seeker community – and that came four years after his original asylum request and only following a protracted legal battle.

“Of more than 2,000 asylum seekers who are survivors of genocide in Sudan, which continues today, the only ones who know they’re on the list are those who could fund legal proceedings before two courts,” said attorney Nimrod Avigal of HIAS, an international organization that helps refugees. “The rest are left with uncertainty both about whether they are on the list and what the future of their asylum request will be. “

At a hearing of the Knesset Interior and Environment Committee last week, MK Anat Berko (Likud) protested the decision to give temporary residency to even 200 Darfurians, since Sudan is an enemy country. Dery replied that “Sudan may be an enemy country, but the people who entered from there were fleeing Sudan because they were persecuted in Sudan.” None of Dery’s predecessors as interior minister had ever said anything similar.

Meanwhile, the state must respond by the middle of next month to another petition filed by attorneys Michal Pomerantz and Carmel Pomerantz asking the Population Authority to decide on the asylum requests of Darfurians. They said Dery’s decision to delay the decision is not consistent with the accepted handling of asylum requests and with commitments made to the courts.