The Jerusalem District Court issued a temporary restraining order on Tuesday to prevent the lifting of collective protection status for citizens of the Democratic Republic of Congo residing in Israel.
Last month, Haaretz reported that Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked had decided to remove the blanket ban on the deportation of DRC nationals residing in Israel, an order that has been in effect for the last 20 years, effectively allowing the expulsion of any Congolese citizen who does not have an individual asylum request in process.
In her decision, Shaked announced a 30-day period during which there would be no deportations, a period which ends Friday.
In response to a petition by refugee rights organizations, the district court's decision suspends Shaked’s policy change pending the state’s response to the injunction. Judge David Gideoni explained that he made the decision to prevent “significant and irrevocable harm.”
The Interior Ministry last attempted to lift the ban on repatriation in 2018, but the government reconsidered and deferred any such decision after court petitions were filed challenging any change.
According to data obtained by Haaretz, there are currently 400 Congolese nationals living in Israel, of whom 264 are asylum seekers with open asylum applications yet to be ruled upon – protecting them from deportation until their applications are processed. The Population Authority said it plans to accelerate the examination process.
According to Population Authority data, 42 applications have already been denied asylum, while three applications have been approved, conferring refugee status upon the applicants. In other words, dozens of Congolese asylum seekers in Israel are slated to be deported should the court decide not to interfere with the state’s decision to lift the ban on repatriating DRC citizens.
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Minister Shaked allegedly made her decision based on reports that the situation in Congo is stable, defined as no longer dangerous to return to. The decision was also based upon a redacted opinion by the Foreign Affairs Ministry.
The Director of the Refugee and Migrant Hotline, Dr. Ayelet Oz, flatly rejected this claim. “The situation in Congo, in security, political, and humanitarian terms, is very severe, to the point of imminent mortal danger to residents of broad swaths of the country,” she said. “The decision to remove the protection of those in Israel is tainted with extreme irrationality, and is disproportionate and contrary to international law binding the state.”
Several Meretz MKs recently wrote to Shaked to protest her decision, while MK Ibtisam Mara’ana has demanded that MK Walid Taha convene the Interior Affairs Committee to review the move.
The court petition that led to the district court's restraining order was filed Tuesday morning by the Refugees and Migrants Hotline, HIAS Israel, Physicians for Human Rights, the African Refugee Development Center, ASSAF – the Aid Organization for Refugees and Asylum Seekers in Israel and the Association for Civil Rights in Israel. The coalition turned to the courts after their appeals to the Foreign Affairs Ministry, Justice Ministry and the Population and Immigration Authority went unanswered.
Their appeal emphasized reports demonstrating "that grave practices are still prevalent in Congo, among them arbitrary extrajudicial executions, disappearing of citizens, cruel and inhumane punishment methods, widespread and unlawful abuse of civilians, abductions, use of children by armed militant groups, sexual and gender-based violence toward women and children, human trafficking and child slavery.”
Attorney Michal Schwatz, who filed the petition along with Atty. Merav Ben-Zeev on behalf of the organizations, wrote in the petition that the state “has not explained how and why it has reached the conclusion that despite the grave and critical situation in Congo, it has seen it fit to revoke their collective protection now of all times, suddenly and with no public discussion of the decision.”
The petition was accompanied by an opinion by the UN High Commission on Refugees from last February stating the situation in the country has not improved in order to allow the safe, long-term, and dignified return of Congolese nationals to their country of origin, so as not to violate the principle of non-refoulement, to which the state is beholden. The opinion was written by the UN commissioner in Israel at the request of MK Mara’ana. In addition, the organization attached a report by the U.S. State Department from last week, according to which the situation in Congo is in decline, particularly the increased detention of political dissidents.