An Israeli court temporarily suspended on Monday the deportation of up to around 400 people from the Democratic Republic of Congo, who in October were told by the Interior Ministry they had until January 5 to leave the country.
The Jerusalem District Court also gave the state until January 7 to respond to the petition by human rights groups against the expulsion.
On Sunday a petition to suspend the deportation order until the humanitarian situation in the central African country could be examined was filed by six rights groups.
Judge Oded Shaham said he was suspending the expulsions in order to preclude the possibility of “severe and irreversible damage.”
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About a month ago the Interior Ministry decided, in consultation with the Foreign Ministry, that the blanket protection for citizens of the Democratic Republic of Congo – which prevented their deportation – should be rescinded. The Interior Ministry did not give its reasoning.
Sunday's petition was filed by the Hotline for Refugees and Migrants, Physicians for Human Rights, HIAS Israel, the Assaf Organization for Refugees and Asylum Seekers, the African Refugee Development Center and the Association for Civil Rights in Israel.
Inbar Barel, a lawyer with the Hotline for Refugees and Migrants, applauded the court’s move to suspend the expulsions. The ministry’s decision could cause the severe and irreversible damage that the judge noted, she said.
On Sunday, the Democratic Republic of Congo held a long-delayed general election; Joseph Kabila has been president for 18 years. Barel says millions of Congolese could not vote, and so Israel should wait for the political situation to crystallize.
The Guardian reported Sunday that despite some violent incidents, the election went off “mostly peacefully.”
Meirav Ben Zeev, a lawyer with HIAS Israel, said the rescindment of collective protection for the Congolese – who have lived in Israel for about 20 years – greatly surprised them at a time of severe volatility in their country.
According to the Population Registry, there are 314 people from the DRC in Israel, of whom all but three have filed for asylum. Decisions have been made in 59 cases; 12 were rejected, but no information is available on how many were accepted. The rejections may stem from minor reasons such as failing to show up for the interview.
Two months ago, the Population Registry told Haaretz that there were 404 Congolese in the country and that 208 of their asylum requests had not yet been answered.