The normalization agreement between the State of Israel and the Republic of Sudan does not automatically pave the way toward resolving the issue of the Sudanese asylum seekers here, who number 6,285 people, a fifth of the asylum seekers in Israel.
The fact that Israel didn’t have diplomatic relations with Sudan blocked it from deporting the Sudanese nationals back to their country. However, for years Israel hasn’t been deporting nationals of Eritrea or the Democratic Republic of the Congo either, even though it has relations with those countries.
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The lack of diplomatic relations isn’t the only obstacle to the government’s desire to preserve the purity of the nation. The UN Convention on Refugees obligates Israel to examine asylum requests submitted to it and to grant refugee status to anyone eligible, regardless of whether there are diplomatic relations with his or her country. Sudan has diplomatic relations with most European countries, yet more than 60 percent of the Sudanese asylum seekers there were recognized as refugees.
Unlike many Europeans and other countries who see themselves as sharing responsibility for dealing with the refugees, the Israel of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Interior Minister Arye Dery has tried to shirk its duty in every possible way. For years Israel blocked Sudanese citizens from even submitting asylum requests, and even after it allowed this, it has evaded making any decisions, neither denying the requests nor accepting them, leaving these people without any official status or rights, other than a single lucky Sudanese national who was granted asylum.
What hasn’t the Netanyahu government done to turn its face from the asylum seekers? It has jailed them in Saharonim Prison and the Holot detention facility, tried to deport them to Rwanda and Uganda, and imposed draconian financial restrictions that denied them access to their own funds.
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Moreover, the convention states that one cannot deport a person to a place where his life or liberty would be at risk. According to the UN High Commission on Refugees, Sudan has not been declared safe for those who’ve fled it. And it’s not just the UN that says so. In September, the state itself told the High Court of Justice that because of the unstable political situation in Sudan, which includes encouraging developments alongside violent attacks by the militias still operating in its territory, there was no way at this stage to rule on the asylum requests submitted by Sudanese nationals. The only change since then has been progress toward normalizing relations with Israel.
Israel must evaluate the Sudanese asylum requests irrespective of the establishment of diplomatic relations with Sudan. Israel must not deport them until Sudan becomes safe for them. This is its moral and legal obligation.
The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.