Despite Promise, Israel Sent Deportation Notices to 10 Congolese Asylum Seekers

Inquiry by human rights NGOs into widely denounced policy gets officials to back off – for now

Lee Yaron
Lee Yaron
Voters queue to cast their ballot for Congo's general elections at the College St Raphael polling station in Kinshasa, Congo, December 30, 2018.
Voters queue to cast their ballot for Congo's general elections at the College St Raphael polling station in Kinshasa, Congo, December 30, 2018.Credit: AFP
Lee Yaron
Lee Yaron

At least 10 asylum seekers from the Democratic Republic of Congo have received deportation notices even though the Interior Ministry had promised that Congolese migrants would not be expelled until their requests for asylum were processed, Haaretz has learned. The notices were canceled, however, when the Hotline for Refugees and Migrants contacted the Population and Immigration Authority.

Meanwhile, on Sunday human rights organizations petitioned the Jerusalem District Court demanding that the group protection for Congolese migrants be maintained, to prevent their expulsion. In October, the authority extended that protection for citizens of the DRC, formerly known as Zaire, for 90 days, saying the Foreign Ministry determined that there was no reason not to send them back to the DRC. Those 90 days expire on Saturday.

>> Opinion: How not to treat asylum seekers'I can't go back, I'll be killed': Soccer star fears death if Israel deports him to Congo

The warnings to the Congolese asylum seekers whose requests have yet to be decided were sent even though the population authority had stated that the asylum applications would be dealt with separately from the process of removing group protection, and that the authority would comply with the International Convention on the Protection of Refugees. The Hotline for Refugees and Migrants warned that deporting asylum seekers whose applications were not examined violates the convention.

The petition by the human rights groups argued that removing group protection should be delayed until there had been a thorough examination of the security and humanitarian situation in the DRC. They also demanded publication of the opinion on which the decision to repatriate the migrants was based, which has remained classified. The organizations that filed the petition are the Hotline for Refugees and Migrants, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), the African Refugee Development Center, Assaf – the Aid Organization for Refugees and Asylum Seekers in Israel, and Physicians for Human Rights.

The petition stated that the decision to remove the group protection in January was “hasty, as it contradicts information emanating from a variety of international and reliable sources about the difficult situation in the Congo.” The groups noted that the political situation in the DRC is particularly volatile now, on the eve of elections there that have been delayed for over two years, leading to increasing chaos. “The security and humanitarian situation in the country is terrible, to the point that there is an immediate danger to the lives of those who reside in many areas there,” the petitioners argued. They also said that the 90-day warning was too short and did not take it into account that Congolese citizens had lived in Israel legally for many years, building lives and establishing families.

According to statistics, submitted this month, from the official responsible for freedom of information in the Population and Immigration Authority, there are 314 Congolese nationals living in Israel, of whom 311 have submitted asylum requests. There have been decisions made on 59 of the requests, but it isn’t known how many of them, if any, were approved. It is known that 12 of them were rejected, but the grounds for the rejection aren’t known. Two months before, the population authority told Haaretz that there were 404 Congolese nationals in Israel, and that 208 asylum requests had yet to get a response.

For two decades Israel had given Congolese nationals temporary residency and work permits under a “temporary group protection” umbrella. Then in October the authority gave the migrants until January 5 to leave the country, warning that those who don’t will be considered illegal residents subject to enforcement procedures.

Elections in the Congo were scheduled for Sunday. Security forces in the country have been suppressing demonstrations by firing live rounds at protesters, and the regime has refused to allow international observers to monitor the elections. There have also been reports of arbitrary arrests of people opposing the regime of President Joseph Kabila, of executions without trial and of torture of detainees. There have also been reports of rape and sexual assault by the security forces. Demonstrations against any further delay of elections have been put down with violence and large numbers of people have fled to neighboring countries.

The rights groups that submitted Sunday’s petition said in a statement, “The decision to remove group protection is extreme, totally unreasonable and constitutes gross disregard for human life. The time has come for the Interior Ministry to stand before the court and explain how it can demand that asylum seekers who fear for their fate return to the Congo, when these injustices are still taking place.”

The Population and Immigration Authority said, “Our response will be given in court, as usual. We do not deal with petitions in the media.”

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