Members of Israeli Government Team, Tasked With Vetting Asylum Requests From Darfuris, Resign

Top court says pace of handling requests 'unacceptable'

File photo: Asylum seekers wait in line at the Population, Immigration and Border Authority office in Bnei Brak, central Israel, April 11, 2018.
Moti Milrod

Three out of five members of the Interior Ministry's task force responsible for vetting asylum requests by Sudanese who fled the war-torn Darfur region have recently resigned, a government attorney informed the High Court of Justice on Monday.

The Interior Ministry’s Population, Immigration and Border Authority, which set up the task force in December following a court-ordered re-examination of Sudanese asylum requests, said all three staffers quit for their own personal reasons and will be replaced with others, "pending relevant training on Darfur."

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At Monday's hearing, which dealt with two petitions on the issue of Sudanese applications for refugee status, Supreme Court President Esther Hayut criticized the pace at which the state is handling the applications, calling it "unacceptable given the length of time the applications have been pending – many years."

One of the petitions, filed by attorneys Carmel Pomerantz and Michal Pomerantz, asked the court to order the government to decide on the Sudanese application in a timely manner. The other petition, filed by attorney Tomer Warsha, called for granting Sudanese asylum seekers seeking recognition as refugees temporary residency permits until a decision in their case is made.

Some 3,800 Sudanese have applied for asylum in Israel, but only a single application, filed by community organizer Mutasim Ali, has been granted. All other applicants are still awaiting a response, and the state told the High Court that to date, it has examined only 210 of them.

Out of the 140 applications that had been considered by the task force up to February by asylum seekers from Darfur, the Nuba Mountains and the Blue Nile regions - where genocide has taken place - it concluded that at least 10 Darfuris who already went through their second interviews had "clear grounds for refugeehood."

Their applications will now be handed over to the Interior Minister’s advisory committee on refugees. If both the committee and Interior Minister Arye Dery approve them, these applicants will be granted refugee status.

In a statement issued after the hearing, Michal and Carmel Pomerantz praised the court for ruling that the pace at which asylum requests are being considered is unacceptable and urged it to follow through by ordering Dery to grant legal status "to the Darfuri and Nubian communities. We hope the court issues a decision in this spirit and not allow this sorry joke to continue."

From 2012 to 2017 the state repeatedly claimed in response to various High Court petitions that it was working on the Sudanese applications. At one hearing in 2015, it promised to make a decision by February 2016 on all asylum requests submitted by that hearing, but didn't do so. Moreover, despite a court order, the government never provided a detailed schedule for considering the applications.

Since 2016, some 800 Darfuri asylum seekers have received special humanitarian status that confers the same benefits as asylum, including the right to work, receive welfare and go in and out of the country freely. But in October, Haaretz reported that the state will no longer grant Darfuris this status; instead, it will decide on their asylum applications.

In December, following two High Court petitions on its years-long failure to decide, the governmental immigration agency began re-examining all Sudanese asylum requests. The state said at the time that it had to interview applicants again because initial interviews "weren't sufficiently in-depth" to allow for a decision to be made. This was the first time the state had admitted that it was handling asylum requests inadequately.

For years, the state had argued that the delay in deciding on asylum requests stems from a desire to establish a general policy that would apply across the board. In October, it changed its approach, saying it will instead consider each application individually. But to do so, it added, it must first devise guidelines for how these applications should be judged – which led to the establishment of the task force.