(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
The Central District Court in Petah Tikva released details on Tuesday of a
judgment made this week in favor of a Colombian citizen, John Hernandez, who had
petitioned the court against the Interior Ministry’s decision to deny him
Hernandez applied for asylum in Israel because he claimed
his life was in danger following threats and a brutal beating by members of an
Israeli-Colombian crime gang in Colombia.
The persecution began because
Hernandez’s mother, Rosa Gutierrez, had been a witness in an international
criminal investigation involving Israeli and Colombian nationals.
had invited Gutierrez to Israel, where she lived for several years, in order to
help the authorities in an investigation to uncover gang members suspected of
forging asylum documents.
Evidence provided by Gutierrez led to the
arrest, indictment and deportation of several Colombian citizens living
illegally in Israel.
However in 2008, Gutierrez – who was still living in
Israel and has herself applied for asylum – began to receive threats from a man
known only as “Yossi,” the central Israeli suspect in the case. Gutierrez said
those threats were connected to the criminal investigation against the forgery
At the same time, her son Hernandez also started to receive
anonymous threatening phone calls to his home in Montenegro,
The threats escalated in May 2009 when Hernandez was brutally
assaulted in Montenegro by four men, who threatened to kill him because his
mother was a police informant. They beat Hernandez until he was unconscious, and
he spent several days in hospital.
Hernandez claims that he gave evidence
about the attack to the Colombian police, but feared for his life and fled to
From there, he crossed the border into Israel and immediately
applied for asylum.
However, the the Interior Ministry’s Refugee Status
Division denied Hernandez’s request to be granted refugee status, and Hernandez
took his case to court.
The Interior Ministry told the court that
Hernandez does not qualify for refugee status under the 1951 Geneva Convention
on Refugees, in part because he claims to be persecuted not by the state of
Colombia itself but by criminal gangs.
The Interior Ministry also alleged
that Hernandez had not told the truth about the violent assault.
the court dismissed the state’s claims that Hernandez had lied about the assault
and threats. The judge also noted that Hernandez had asked for protection from
the Colombian government but had not received it.
In ruling that
Hernandez should receive refugee status, Judge Rami Amir also slammed the
state’s suggestion that he should merely have moved to another Colombian city
after the brutal attack and threats to his life.
“It is clear that there
were reasons [for the state] to give assistance for humanitarian reasons to one
exposed to threats and attacks because of his mother’s aid to Israel in dealing
with an international crime syndicate,” wrote Amir in his judgment.
the state asks for help from someone, the state should also commit itself to
ensuring that person and their family are not harmed in the process.” The ruling
is the first of its kind to be made since the Interior Ministry established a
new system for asylum seekers in January.
Refugee organizations have
heavily criticized that new system, according to which the Interior Ministry’s
Refugee Status Determination unit conducts a basic interview with asylum seekers
shortly after their arrival in Israel. Immediately after that interview, the
state decides whether to progress with the asylum claim or dismiss it out of
If an asylum case is dismissed, the state can deport the asylum
This puts the lives of many asylum seekers at risk,
because their cases usually only receive a superficial review, refugee
Attorney Yonatan Berman, a legal adviser for the
Hotline for Migrant Workers, told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday that he welcomed
the ruling in the Hernandez case, which he said exposes many of the flaws of the
Interior Ministry’s new asylum system.
“The verdict reveals the lack of
professionalism of the refugee status determination unit, the ministry’s
ignorance of refugee law, and its determination to deport even those people
whose lives are in danger,” Berman said.
Berman added that he hoped that
this case will set a precedent for future rulings in the cases of other asylum
seekers whose claims have been rejected by the Interior Ministry.