State Recognizes Some Darfuris Qualify as Refugees but Does Not Act

Despite the acknowledgment, no asylum seeker has yet received an answer about eligibility for refugee status; court postpones asylum request hearing due to elections

File photo: A sign at a demonstration against the expulsion of asylum seekers in Tel Aviv, April 9, 2018.
Moti Milrod

The Interior Ministry recognizes that it will have to grant refugee status to some asylum seekers from Darfur, Haaretz has learned. It has not, however, translated that understanding into action.

The ministry’s Population and Immigration Authority began re-evaluating some 1,500 asylum applications from Sudanese nationals from Darfur, the Nuba Mountains and Blue Nile regions in December, in response to two petition to the High Court of Justice.

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The state had acknowledged that it must reinterview applicants after admitting for the first time the initial interviews were not “in-depth enough” for any decision to be rendered.

Haaretz has learned that a special team has reviewed the first 140 of these applications, and has determined that some of them “would appear to be more clearly with foundation with than others as showing grounds for asylum on the basis of the United Nations Refugee Convention.” The statement was part of the state’s response last week to two High Court petitions, one filed by Carmel Pomerantz and Michal Pomerantz and a second by Tomer Warsha.

Despite the acknowledgment, no asylum seeker has yet received an answer about eligibility for refugee status, and none of the re-examined applications has been sent for continued handling to the public advisory committee on refugees or to the interior minister, both of whose approval is required for granting asylum requests.

The state asked the court to postpone the next hearing on the case, scheduled for mid-March, due to the April 9 general election. The state was asked to update the court within three months as to its guidelines and time table for reaching decisions on the requests submitted so far.

“We are happy the state has finally acknowledged the obvious fact that survivors of the Darfur genocide deserve refugee status,” Carmel and Michal Pomerantz said in a response.

“It is regrettable that again excuses have been found to delay granting the status to these people and we hope that the court will not be complicit in this,” they added.

The applications were examined as part of a pilot project to formulate a general policy and guidelines for individual reviews of these applications. A team of six officials was appointed to the task, “noting the changing circumstances over time” as the authorities had already begun to review the requests in 2013.

The state has informed the court that it would extend the pilot beyond the 150 applications it initially promised and would review another 100 requests before formulating a policy.

“A need has been found to complete mapping and characterizing the asylum requests submitting by people from Darfur, Nuba and Blue Nile regions, to relate to the various arguments raised and stressing the circumstances that clearly support refugee status,” the state said in its response. “We must continue to examine another 100 asylum requests in similar fashion.”

The state also said it was continuing to gather information about “the current situation in Sudan.”

The requests were being reviewed at a pace of about one a day per team member, a pace the Population and Immigration Authority said should increase within a few months.

Sudanese migrants in Israel from the Darfur, Nuba Mountains and Blue Nile regions have submitted some 3,400 asylum requests. Only one request has been granted and the others have received no response.

In the court’s last session on the petitions, in October, Supreme Court President Justice Esther Hayut criticized the delay in handling the requests after the state said it had insufficient staff to process them.