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Israel Hasn’t Recognized Even One Sudanese Refugee

The State of Israel recognized a little over 200 refugees ever since it signed the Refugee Convention in 1954, but none of them are Sudanese nationals. You read it right – Israel hasn’t recognized even one of the survivors of the Darfur genocide or the ethnic cleansing in the Nuba Mountains or Blue Nile regions as refugees. The recognition rate of Sudanese nationals as refugees is one of the highest in the world: 68.2% of Sudanese asylum-seekers whose claims were examined worldwide in 2012 were granted refugee status (see table 11). Israel is home to about 10,000 Sudanese asylum-seekers. How come none of them were recognized as refugees?

A refugee is a person who has a “well-founded fear” that his life or liberty are likely to be endangered if he is deported to his homeland due to persecution based on nationality, race, religion, political views or being a member of another social group persecuted by the regime or society. Refugee status in Israel grants people the right not to be indefinitely jailed in the Holot internment camp, as well as the right to work and access to social and health services. Without this legal status, asylum-seekers face the possibility of being ordered to the Holot detention center under the Anti-Infiltration Law.

Those asylum-seekers who are not summoned to Holot are not eligible for welfare and health services and struggle to find work because their visas state that “this permit is not a work permit”, despite the High Court ruling forbidding the State from fining the employers of asylum-seekers. At the same time, Israel does not forcibly deport Sudanese citizens to their homeland. In the past, the State proclaimed that the reason for this is a policy of “group protection”, meaning, due to dangers the deportees would face in their country of origin. Today, on the other hand, the State claims that the deportations are not carried out due to technical reasons alone – because Israel does not maintain diplomatic ties with the Islamist regime in Khartoum.

Israel succeeded in not recognizing any Sudanese national as a refugee first of all by preventing them from filing asylum claims until early 2013. At that point, the Ministry of Interior succumbed to the pressure of the Hotline for Refugees and Migrants and allowed Eritrean and Sudanese asylum-seekers detained under the previous iteration of the Anti-Infiltration Law to file asylum claims. In late 2013 the State began allowing Eritreans and Sudanese outside of detention to file asylum claims too, but did not publicize this policy change anywhere. Despite this, over 1,400 asylum-seekers from Sudan filed asylum claims. Thus far, only a handful of them received a reply – all of them negative. Most of the asylum claims have been filed over a year ago. For asylum-seekers currently detained under the Anti-Infiltration Law, some of them for over two years now, the meaning of receiving refugee status is release from indefinite detention.

The previous amendment to the Anti-Infiltration Law that was voided by the High Court of Justice (HCJ) stated that asylum-seekers whose asylum claim did not receive a response within nine months of its filing can be released. According to the new amendment to the Law, however, the Ministry of Interior is not obligated to examine the asylum claims of the detainees in Holot in a given time frame. As a result, hundreds of asylum-seekers detained in Holot would have been released a long time ago under the previous amendment, which the HCJ found to be too draconian.

One of those asylum seekers in A. A. arrived in Israel in June 2012 and was jailed without trial in Saharonim prison under the Anti-Infiltration Law that came into effect just days before A. arrived in Israel. A. is from Darfur but worked in a city in the Blue Nile region, in southern Sudan, where there is an active rebellion against the regime, which is repressed by indiscriminate bombings and ethnic cleansing of civilians. A. joined the rebel group Sudan’s People Liberation Front – North, which aims to depose the Arab Islamist regime in Khartoum and replace it with a government that does not discriminate between its subjects. A. was caught, jailed and accused of collaborating with the rebels and spying for them. A. managed to escape prison and afterward fled the country to Egypt. In Egypt, A. explains “I did not find protection.” Therefore, he decided to continue to Israel.

Upon entering Israel, A. demanded to be given to opportunity to ask for asylum. Only in February 2013 he managed to file the claim because the Ministry of Interior did not provide the necessary forms to Saharonim prison and the activists from the Hotline who met him were not allowed to bring papers inside. In May 2013, the Ministry of Interior interviewed A. regarding his asylum claims. Although over nine months passed since the filing of his asylum claim, A. was never released. When the HCJ voided the previous amendment to the Anti-Infiltration Law, it gave the State 90 days to examine the individual cases of all detainees under the Law and to release them. Instead, the State replaced the previous amendment with a new amendment that created Holot. Thus, instead of being released, A. was transferred to the Holot detention camp, across the road from Saharonim. Currently, A. is still detained in Holot, without an end date, without being convicted of any crime.

The Ministry of Interior is not in a rush. Why examine the asylum claims of survivors of the genocide in Darfur, ethnic cleansing in the Nuba Mountains, victims of murderous oppression, when the law allows them to ignore the asylum claims of those detained in Holot and those who are trying to survive outside of prison? Only this way one can ensure that many of them will succumb to the pressure exerted on them by the State and “agree” to be deported to the homeland from which they fled. If a few of the Sudanese nationals in Israel are recognized as refugees, the rest may develop hopes that one day they too will enjoy security and a decent life in Israel.