Israel will suspend a decision to expel hundreds of citizens of the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The decision to suspend the expulsion was announced by Interior Minister Arye Dery on Thursday, and came after the the Foreign Ministry said that the repatriation could not be accomplished without endangering the lives of those facing deportation.
The Foreign Ministry’s intervened after human rights organizations filed a petition to the Jerusalem District Court, demanding that the expulsion of be stopped.
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Last December, the court decided to freeze the expulsion.
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There are several hundreds of ex-Congolese citizens residing in Israel who came to the country after fleeing violent clashes that their country has suffered for about two decades.
The DRC has also seen a recent epidemic of the Ebola virus that has killed hundreds.
Explaining the move, Dery said that the Foreign Ministry’s recommendation came in light of “recent developments in the DRC.”
The suspension, he added, would remain in effect for as long as was necessary to get a clear picture of events in the country.
In October, after an earlier consultation with the Foreign Ministry over lifting the collective protection granted to Congolese in Israel since 2002, Dery concluded that there was nothing preventing their repatriation.
The Interior Ministry’s Population and Immigration Authority notified DRC nationals in Israel that they had 90 days, until January 5, to leave the country and that they would not be issued visas permitting them to stay in Israel beyond that date. A coalition of Israeli human rights groups then filed their petition in Jerusalem District Court to stop the expulsion.
The petitioners argued that the expulsion should not be carried out without a thorough examination of the security and humanitarian situation in the DRC. The court granted a temporary stay in December “to avoid serious and irreversible harm” to Congolese in Israel.
In addition to citizens of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Israel provides temporary collective protection from expulsion to nationals of three other African countries – Sudan, South Sudan and Eritrea.
There are at least 400 nationals of the DRC in Israel, according to the Population Authority, which did not respond to an inquiry from Haaretz regarding how many of them have already received refugee status in Israel, protecting them from expulsion, how many have pending asylum requests for refugee status and how the requests will now be handled.
Two of the groups that filed the district court petition, the Hotline for Refugees and Migrants and HIAS, issued a statement welcoming Dery’s action and said the earlier decision to lift collective protection was “hasty and dangerous” in light of instability in the DRC. The statement also noted that many Congolese asylum seekers in Israel have been waiting for over a decade for a decision on their asylum requests, during which time “they have faced the possible threat of expulsion to the country that they had fled to save their lives.”
Inbar Barel and Merav Ben-Ze’ev, the two lawyers who had drafted the district court petition on behalf of the human rights groups, also welcomed the Interior Ministry’s decision, but added: “We regret that there was a need in the first place to file a petition” to halt a step that would have been “clearly hasty and dangerous.” They called on the Interior Ministry to act on the asylum requests of Congolese citizens in Israel, “some of which have been gathering dust on its desk for more than 10 years.”