Israel gives Sudanese migrants more rights following NGO lawsuit

Court to decide how far to push the government

Migrants dance with flag of South Sudan (photo credit: Ben Hartman)
Migrants dance with flag of South Sudan
(photo credit: Ben Hartman)
The government has extended some new rights to Sudanese migrants in response to a case by an NGO currently pending before the Jerusalem District Court.
The court heard the case on Monday and may render a decision within a week, on the issue of if and when the state needs to make decisions regarding certain Sudanese migrants’ requests for recognition as refugees.
But even before the court decides – and possibly to try to get the court to dismiss the case – the government decided to extend a variety of new rights to Sudanese migrants before the hearing.
Filed by the Tel Aviv-based Hotline for Refugees and Migrants, the lawsuit claims that the state has inexplicably stalled reviewing certain migrants’ requests for the better part of a decade, refusing to give either positive or negative answers.
Underlying the NGO’s lawsuit is the idea that Sudanese migrants from Darfur and certain other battle-ravaged regions are obviously refugees fleeing from persecution. Under this assumption, the Hotline has told the court that the state claimed inadequate resources to review migrants’ applications because it knows it would need to grant most of them refugee status.
According to the NGO, the state has stalled on the issue in the past by giving temporary and conditional humanitarian statuses to Darfurian Sudanese migrants and some other groups.
However, this humanitarian status can be suddenly taken away or altered and has a variety of holes that leave migrants vulnerable.
The Hotline told the court that the state can no longer use humanitarian statuses for some migrants and not others to avoid the broader dilemma.
Leading into the hearing, the state updated the court that it was giving a full 12-month permit to all Sudanese migrants. In the past, migrants’ permits were for a much shorter period, leaving them in a constant state of uncertainty.
Further, the state said it is removing from the permits of all migrants certain language which limits their working rights.
Based on these changes, the NGO said that the state’s hope is that it can convince the court that it has improved living and work conditions enough for all Sudanese migrants, so that it will be given more time regarding the issue of examining migrants’ refugee status.
Moreover, granting these rights to all Sudanese migrants could undermine the NGO’s case that Darfurian and certain other groups should be streamlined toward refugee status even if the legal issues are more complicated for granting refugee status to the broader Sudanese population.
Aside from Darfurians and some other groups, most Sudanese are not fleeing persecution as much as they cannot be returned to Sudan on the practical grounds that Sudan and Israel have no diplomatic relations.
While giving limited praise to the state for improving migrants’ rights, a spokeswoman for the Hotline said there are several problems with the government’s updated position.
She said that the state still has failed to give a good and legal reason why it has not evaluated requests for recognition as refugees.
In addition, she said that at any time the state could suddenly swoop down and cart some migrants off to the Holot detention center in the South.
Even with the improved conditions, migrants’ healthcare rights are still in limbo, which often leads to illnesses going untreated.
Finally, even if it might be easier for migrants to find work now, as long as they do not have any permanent status, many employers will still not hire them and they still must deposit 20% of their salary with the state.
The state also has only extended the 12-month permit rule to Sudanese nationals, not addressing the vast majority of migrants, who are Eritrean.
At the peak of the last decade, there were around 60,000 African migrants in Israel, but that number fell to the mid-30,000 level over time, due to government policies designed to get migrants to leave.