Ukrainians Who Can’t Be Deported Should Be Allowed to Work, Israeli Court Rules

The ruling was made in regard to two Ukrainians who came to Israel before the war, but is likely to be applied universally to other Ukrainian asylum seekers in Israel

Bar Peleg
Bar Peleg
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File photo: A rally in support of Ukraine, in Tel Aviv, in February.
File photo: A rally in support of Ukraine, in Tel Aviv, in February.Credit: Ronen Zvulun/Reuters
Bar Peleg
Bar Peleg

Ukrainians who can’t be deported from Israel must be given work permits, Tel Aviv District Court ruled on Monday.

Officially, the ruling applies only to the two Ukrainians who appealed the Interior Ministry’s refusal to grant them work permits. But it is expected to be applied to other Ukrainians in Israel as well.

Judge Michal Agmon-Gonen slammed the ministry’s policy toward the Ukrainians, saying it violated their human rights by not allowing them to work despite having granted them protection against deportation.

Judge Michal Agmon-Gonen at a hearing for a Ukrainian refugee who was denied entry into Israel at the Tel Aviv District Court, in April.Credit: Hadas Parush

The appellants, Vitali Smirnov and Jonina Smernova, came to Israel in March 2018, long before the war in Ukraine began. They applied for asylum, but their applications were denied. Consequently, they are now in a sort of legal limbo: Since Israel had planned to deport them and suspended the action only due to the war, they don’t enjoy the same legal rights as recognized refugees.

The ministry’s Population and Immigration Authority told the court that “Ukrainian nationals who can’t work and support themselves in Israel are free to leave for another country,” Agmon-Gonen wrote in her ruling.

This, she said, showed that the authority had adopted its policy of non-deportation “only as lip service and toward the outside world, but effectively maintains its policy of ‘constructive deportation’ – it allows Ukrainian nationals to remain, but doesn’t enable them to support themselves, effectively forcing them to leave, albeit not by actual deportation.”

The main question, she said, was whether Ukrainians were actually receiving collective protection, given that the ministry neither allows them to work nor provides for their basic needs itself. “In my view, the answer is negative,” she wrote.

“I think that violating the basic human rights of people entitled to temporary protection from deportation constitutes constructive deportation in every respect,” she concluded. “The violation of these rights directly affects their ability to live with human dignity.”

The Immigration Authority’s brief to the court said Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked was holding talks with the Ukrainian Embassy over the issue of work permits. It therefore asked the court not to intervene in the issue, since any ruling could have widespread repercussions.

Agmon-Gonen acknowledged that her ruling could have a widespread impact, but she said this didn’t justify refusing to rule on the specific case before her. “This is an individual request, relating to them and them alone,” she wrote.

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