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Israel prevents refugees from renewing visas & jails them for it

Dozens of asylum-seekers have been arrested in Israel in the past three weeks for not holding a valid visa – after the Ministry of Interior have been refusing, in the past two months, to renew visas of asylum-seekers who don’t have payslips and lease agreements for apartments made in their name. Asylum-seekers have to renew their visa everyone one to two months. According to the latest (2014) version of the Anti-Infiltration Law, asylum-seekers can be detained for up to 120 days in prison for not having a valid visa after which they can be transferred to 20 months of detention in the Holot detention camp minus the period they had spent in prison.

In the past, the Immigration Authority clarified in responses to the Hotline that only asylum-seekers who have the documents need to present them. Despite this instruction, the Ministry of Interior kept refusing to issue visas to people who did not posses the documents. In a response from the Immigration Authority to the Hotline last week, the Authority claimed that presenting the documents is part of a new regulation.

Asylum-seekers at times struggle to obtain the necessary documents – they don’t always have an apartment lease in their name or work in a steady job (payslips are given only after a person completed a month of employment). Daniel, an Eritrean asylum-seeker, described is this way: “We explain to the clerks [at the Ministry of Interior] that many friends share one apartment and only the name of the person who rented it appears on the lease agreement. Many others cannot bring payslips. After we wait for many days [in lines outside Ministry of Interior offices and while trying to obtain documents] for the visas, the employers fire us and we have to find new work places. That’s why we still don’t have payslips. Many employers also don’t want to give payslips. The clerks don’t care – they kick out anyone who doesn’t have a lease agreement for an apartment [on his name] or payslips.”

Sometimes, even when asylum-seekers show up with the required documents, the Ministry of Interior clerks find them to be insufficient. B., an Eritrean citizen, described it thus: “I went to renew my visa. They asked for an apartment lease agreement and payslips and said that they cannot renew my visa otherwise. After a month I brought a lease agreement and they told me, there’s no seal and this isn’t in the right order… two days ago, the Immigration Authority [inspectors] arrested me.” P. from Eritrea described why the Immigration Authority refused to renew his visa: “I came to the Ministry of Interior three times and each time they told me that the lease agreement isn’t right because it has erase marks.” Some of the asylum-seekers were arrested at Ministry of Interior offices when they came to present the documents they had managed to obtain, as can be seen in the testimony of W.: “I had a visa until the month of December. I did not renew the visa because there were many people in line. They told me to bring a lease agreement for the apartment and a payslip. I brought them what they asked for – but they arrested me.”

The asylum-seekers arrested for not having a valid visa due to the Ministry of Interior’s policy made these statements before Administrative Tribunal judges who found no reason to release them and approved their detention.

In November 2014, the Immigration Authority office where most asylum-seekers used to renew their visas was closed and instead a new office was opened in Bnei Brak, but it is open for less hours each day. At the same time, the Ministry of Interior closed to Hadera office – and thus asylum-seekers now have only three offices where they can renew their visas (Bnei Brak, Beer Sheva and Eilat). The asylum-seekers residing in northern Israeli have to travel to Bnei Brak to renew their visas. As a result, long lines have formed outside these offices. Asylum-seekers cannot afford to walk around without valid visas – they face arrest and cannot work and support themselves and their families without the temporary stay permits the Ministry of Interior issues them.