Israel Lifted Protections for Congolese Asylum Seekers Without Consulting Foreign Ministry

Interior Minister Shaked based her decision, which has since been suspended by court, on a report issued by her ministry, stating that the situation in the DRC is stable

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Israel's Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked last month.
Israel's Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked last month. Credit: Moti Milrod
Bar Peleg
Bar Peleg

Israel's Interior Ministry failed to consult with the Foreign Ministry before lifting the collective protected status of Congolese citizens last month, a decision that has since been suspended.

The Foreign Ministry’s international law representative, Noam Cappon, told a Knesset committee on Monday that the Interior Ministry had asked his office to lift collective protection, and the ministry had begun to look into the request. However, Cappon indicated that "no written statement was sent back to the Interior Ministry, nor any decision has been taken on this matter."

Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked’s office maintained that the decision was fully coordinated with the Foreign Ministry.

Last week the Jerusalem District Court issued an interim ruling against lifting protection from deportation of Congolese citizens until a final ruling was in an appeal on the matter.

Minister Shaked's decision was based on a report from her ministry that the situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo is stable, and that it is safe for its citizens to return.

According to an opinion by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees issued in February, the situation in Congo had not changed in a manner that would allow long-term, safe and dignified return of Congolese nationals to their country.

The opinion was written by the UNHCR's envoy to Israel at the request of Labor lawmaker Ibtisam Mara’ana, who called for Monday's Knesset meeting together with Meretz lawmaker Mossi Raz.

There are currently 400 Congolese nationals living in Israel, of whom 225 are asylum seekers with open asylum applications yet to be ruled upon.

A report by the U.S. State Department from April said the situation in Congo has worsened, particularly for political activists.

Congolese citizens in Israel have been afforded collective protection from deportation by Israel since 2002, due to the civil war in Congo. Following a decision to lift the protection, asylum requests were examined on an individual basis and have not yet been processed. According to the Hotline for Refugees and Migrants, one of these requests, filed by a 62-year-old woman, has been open for 24 years.

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid recently asked the Interior Ministry not to deport Congolese children, which would depend on a decision by Shaked.

A Foreign Ministry official told the Knesset committee that there is no longer justification to grant group protection to Congolese citizen.

Group protection is a “tool for extreme situations" and despite the fact that conflict remains in some specific zones of the country, "the situation has improved since the last elections," the head of the West-Central Africa desk, Idit Rosenzweig Abu said, adding that neither European countries nor the United States had granted Congolese citizens collective protection from deportation.

The UNHCR representative, Jane Williamson, confirmed that only a few countries grant group protection to Congolese but examining requests individually will put pressure on the already overloaded asylum request system in Israel.

Shaked’s office claimed that the Interior Ministry had already given its opinion to the Foreign Ministry in September 2020 and that no objection in principle was made.

"The Foreign Ministry only requested to postpone the lift for a few months for diplomatic reasons and given that an earlier opinion by the Foreign Ministry did not indicate any objection, and even expressed consent, and after a consultation security officials hold with government representatives in Congo during which they welcomed this decision, therefore, [the interior] minister updated the policy," the statement read.

The Interior Minister, according to the statement, "Has the exclusive authority on the implementation of the law of entry to Israel and the policy towards Congolese citizens, and the legal discretion given to her is very broad."

The statement added that a professional study conducted by the Population Authority has found that most of the western countries where Congolese migrants live have been sending them back to Congo for several years, even forcibly. "Considering that, the minister found it right to determine that a collective policy should not be pursued, but rather an individualized one."

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