Tel Aviv Judge Blasts Israeli Agency Over Asylum Seekers’ via Dolorosa

He rejects the claim by the Refugee Status Determination Unit that the ordeal involved in filing for asylum has eased

Foreign nationals lining up in Tel Aviv to apply for asylum.
Moti Milrod

A Tel Aviv appeals tribunal castigated the Population, Immigration and Border Authority’s difficulties in accepting new requests for asylum, ruling recently that the authority is making the process of submitting requests unacceptably hard.

Judge Buffy Tam issued the criticism after visiting the authority’s Refugee Status Determination Unit in south Tel Aviv to view the conditions there.

Requests for asylum can only be submitted to the unit. Requests must be submitted in person, but the authority only allows a limited people into the Salameh Street office every day. Dozens of people line up daily to enter; many arrive the night before to get a place.

There is periodic violence in the queue. Intermediaries with no official status can be seen offering their services for a fee. Only a few people are able to get into the building to submit their asylum requests; the rest are turned away and must try their luck another day. The population authority refuses to grant those waiting an appointment for a different day, as it has in the past.

Last year the authority said that by May 2017 it would provide a solution to the problem, but nothing has changed. Many asylum seekers report trying to submit their requests numerous times, to no avail.

Several asylum seekers have gone to court to force the authority to give them a chance to submit their asylum requests. In response, the authority said recently that the queues have shortened considerably and there is no longer a problem with submitting new asylum requests. At the same time, however, an increasing number of appeals have been filed with the tribunal that asserted the opposite. At one point Tam, who was handling the cases, asked the population authority for permission to make an unannounced visit to the refugee unit herself, and the authority agreed.

“After the respondent agreed, the court visited the Refugee Status Determination Unit twice, and saw that all the phenomena described in a large number of the appeals submitted over the past few months are indeed taking place,” wrote Tam, in a response she wrote two weeks ago to an appeal submitted by attorney Guy David for a native of Sri Lanka. The judge noted the “lengthy waits in line, management of the lines by unofficial agents, irregularities, violence and bullying, and the fact that most are waiting in vain because in the end only a few are allowed entry and even for them, some gain entry but in the end they are not allowed to submit their request.”

Tam ordered the population authority to respond in writing “to all those phenomena that are not consistent with its announcement regarding the shortened queues and the waiting time.” She also ordered the authority to detail all the steps it had taken to manage the queues, including reporting violence to the police, the frequency at which police come to the site, and actions to preserve public order. The judge also asked the authority to provide data on the number of applicants who were allowed to enter daily during the two months that preceded her ruling.

Chen Bril Egri of Amnesty International Israel went to the Refugee Status Determination Unit on Sunday to document what went on there. She estimates that some 200 people, most of them Africans, were waiting in a crowded line to get into the building. Only 28 were allowed to enter after hours of waiting; the rest were sent home. Police patrol cars were summoned to help keep the queue orderly.

Egri said that after the security guards at the entrance announced that no more people would be allowed in, one of those who’d been waiting said that he’d been trying to submit an asylum request for four months, without success. The security guard told him he was not the only one. “Everyone here has been trying for four months,” he said.