Photo: ActiveStills

Israel maintains a policy of temporary protection, also called by the State “temporary delay of deportation” vis-à-vis most asylum-seekers in Israel. Under this policy, grants all asylum-seekers from Sudan, Eritrea and Congo, a legal status that denies them all rights except the right to remain in Israel until their deportation is made possible. Until 2013, Israel did not allow people covered by the “temporary delay of deportation” to file individual asylum cases, thus denying them the possibility of ever receiving refugee status in Israel. Since 2013, three (3) Eritrean asylum-seekers received refugee status and zero (0) Sudanese national received the coveted status, out of a population of about 44,000 people. Israel has the lowest recognition rate of refugees in the Western world, with only 0.15% of people who filed asylum claims receiving the status on average.

Asylum-seekers who haven’t been ordered to report to administrative detention under the Anti-Infiltration Law (less than 40,000 people as of February 2015) are given visas under article 2(A)(5) of the Entry of Israel Law. The meaning of this “conditional release” visa is that there is a pending deportation order for each of the asylum-seekers, but the execution of the order is delayed for the time being. Asylum-seekers are obligated to cooperate with their deportation once it is possible to carry it out. The only right this visa gives to asylum-seekers is staying in Israel for the time being. They are officially not allowed to work and they’re not entitled to medical or welfare services except in life-threatening situations.

Israel does not deport citizens of Eritrea, Sudan and Congo because their liberty and life will be endangered if deported. Deportation to these countries would violate the non-refoulement principle. This principle is the heart of the Refugee Convention and is part of Customary International Law, meaning, all countries are bound by it, even if they have not passed legislation to that effect. This principle states that “No State shall expel or return (“refouler”) a refugee in any manner whatsoever to the frontiers of territories where his life or freedom would be threatened on account of his race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion” (Article 33 of the Convention). The High Court of Justice in Israel has ruled that the non-refoulement principle stems from the basic right to life that is enshrined in Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty (HCJ 5190/94, al-Tai and others vs. Minister of Interior) The State has declared multiple times before the courts that it sees itself bound by the principle.

In other countries, “complementary protection” or “temporary protection” are instituted in other circumstances. EU nations and the United States, use “complementary protection” mostly for cases when the asylum request of a person is turned down because it is unlikely that he will be exposed to individual persecution if deported (the condition necessary to be considered a refugee under the Refugee Convention), but due to indiscriminate fighting in his country of origin, there is a real concern that he will be significantly harmed if deported. Another case when countries enact “complementary protection” is when asylum-seekers do not meet the criteria of the convention, which states that only a person whose freedom or liberty will be endangered if deported is a refugee, but it is likely that if the person is deported, he will be subjected to significant violations of his human rights.

In addition, mostly developing countries adopt the policy of temporary group protection instead of examining the individual asylum claims in cases of “mass influx” of asylum-seekers, due to lack of resources and ability to examine each refugee claims individually. In those cases, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees has declared that is it possible to grant more limited rights and benefits compared to those of refugees, but the period during which the rights are restricted must be short and following it, the individual refugee claim of each asylum seeker must be examined or full refugee rights must be given without examination. Even during the initial period when the asylum-seeker enjoy group protection, the State should not infringe upon their right to liberty or limit their movement, and the State must provide food, shelter, basic medical care and access to the education system.

Although there is no legislation or procedures that regulate the policy of enacting of withdrawing temporary group protection in Israel, the policy was applied by Israeli authorities over the last decade to respond to entry of asylum-seekers who fled humanitarian crises or civil wars.

Israel maintained a policy of group protection to citizens of Sierra Leone between 2011 and July 2005 due to a civil war that raged in that west-African nation. Between 2005 and 2007, due to a civil war in Liberia, Israel gave the citizens of that state temporary protection as well. Between 2002 and 2012, with a break in between, Israel maintained group protection for citizens of the Ivory Coast due to two civil wars in that country. Between 2005 and 2012, Israel maintained group protection for asylum-seekers who hail from South Sudan. In all those cases, after the end of the civil wars or state of crisis in those countries, the temporary group protection was lifted, and the citizens of these four countries were asked to leave and did so. Those who did not leave willingly were detained and deported.