NGO says govt. shirking responsibility to Eritrean and Sudanese refugees

The Interior Ministry is reviewing only a fraction of the 3,300 annual applications that the High Court requested it evaluate.

Sudanese and Eritreans in Israel protest their treatment in front of the Knesset (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Sudanese and Eritreans in Israel protest their treatment in front of the Knesset
The Interior Ministry continues to ignore Eritrean and Sudanese refugees’ applications for political asylum, despite the High Court’s 2015 request that it expedite such potentially life-saving protection, an NGO claims.
Reut Michaeli, an attorney and CEO of Hotline for Refugees and Migrants – which sent a brief to the court Monday to intervene in the matter – said Thursday the Anti-Infiltration Law is creating a humanitarian crisis.
The law presently allows the Interior Ministry to detain 3,360 of the approximately 38,000 African refugees at the Negev’s Holot Detention Facility, managed by the Israel Prison Service, for up to 12 months.
In January, over 1,000 refugees confined to the desert facility held a rally outside the Knesset to beseech the High Court for political asylum amid threats of deportation. Still, the number of application approvals by the ministry remain anemic.
“As of September 2016, two refugees from Sudan and eight from Eritrea have been recognized in Israel, while approximately 10,000 asylum applications are pending, of which 2,541 have been pending for over two years,” said Michaeli.
“Israel’s acceptance rate is lower than one-half of 1%, while in other countries, such as Germany, America and Britain, the refugee status acceptance rate – or complimentary protection for Eritrean and Sudanese refugees – is between 60%-90%.”
Following a 2015 intervention by the court requesting – but not legislating – that the ministry deliberate on thousands more applications within one year, the Population and Immigration Authority committed to review 3,300 annually.
However, Michaeli said over two years later only a fraction of that number has been reviewed.
“The court asked the state to prioritize the applications of those in detention, but most of the applications have not been reviewed,” she said.
“So, we went back to the court and said, ‘Listen, the ministry has made a commitment and they are not implementing their commitment. People are still waiting years for its decision on their applications.”
In the meantime, she said the migrants who are not in Holot live under the constant threat of deportation, unless they update their visas every month at overcrowded centers with extremely limited hours of operation.
“Israel needs to have a functioning, professional and transparent refugee status determination system,” said an exasperated Michaeli.
“It’s our moral and legal responsibility to recognize people who meet the standards of the Refugee Convention and grant them their rights. So, we have requested that the High Court again intervene in the state’s actions.”
Moreover, the activist noted that since 2012 the number of African refugees in Israel dropped from 65,000 to 38,000 after asylum seekers left the country due to a pronounced lack of support.
“Many felt forced to leave because they feared the tension, and very few have come since,” she said.
“So, can anyone say that the Jewish State cannot absorb 38,000 people who fled from their countries of origin because their lives are in danger? Is this really a refugee country? These people deserve to have their applications checked.”
A spokesperson for the Interior Ministry’s Population and Immigration Authority did not return a request for comment.