While the state is investing endless resources in pursuing asylum seekers and detaining them in special holding facilities, when it comes to examining the asylum requests of those who fled Sudan and Eritrea, Israel is demonstrating deliberate incompetence.
The Interior Ministry regularly argues that it is making every effort to quickly and efficiently examine the asylum requests it receives. But the statistics submitted Tuesday to the High Court of Justice indicate the opposite; that most of the asylum requests submitted since 2009 were never answered at all, while the rate of refusals is significantly higher than the average in other countries.
Since July 2009, Sudanese nationals in Israel, most of whom are from the Darfur region, submitted 3,165 asylum requests. The state has responded to only 45 of them; 40 were rejected and five people received temporary resident status because they were on a list of 600 people from Darfur deemed eligible for such status in an ad hoc decision by the Olmert government in 2007. There were 936 Sudanese who left Israel or canceled their requests (29.6 percent) before they received a response, and 2,184 (69 percent) are still waiting for an answer.
With regard to asylum seekers from Eritrea the state has been using a unique tactic, aimed at justifying the high refusal rate, while implementing the same deliberate procrastination policy. Since 2009, 2,408 Eritreans have submitted asylum requests, but only four were recognized as refugees (0.16 percent); 997 requests were rejected (41.4 percent), 72 left Israel before being answered (3 percent) and 1,335 are still waiting for a response. The Interior Ministry explained the rejections in a uniform fashion: “Desertion from the army does not constitute grounds for granting refugee status,” since Eritrean asylum seekers inevitably note in their requests that remaining in their native land would mean serving in the army there for life.
These numbers paint a grim picture of a deliberate effort by the Interior Ministry and those at its helm during these years – Eli Yishai, Gideon Sa’ar and Gilad Erdan – to break the asylum seekers’ spirit with endless, burdensome waiting, so that the state would not have consider their requests and approve them.
This illegal and immoral policy has the support of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who allowed his coalition members to concoct different versions of unconstitutional laws targeting asylum seekers. The High Court must, yet again, stand as a bulwark against this corruption of democracy and morality by the Israeli government.