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The Only Answer We Get is “Wait” – Dr. Ayelet Oz

The Only Answer We Get is “Wait” – Dr. Ayelet Oz

(as published in Hebrew in Haaretz, 26.5.2022)

This week, two debates were held in the Knesset, one after the other, demonstrating the enormous price Israel is paying – in human suffering and tension, in chaos and in economic costs – for failing to formulate a clear and fair policy of providing temporary group protection to asylum seekers (also referred to as supplementary protection or a policy of temporary non-exclusion). Although in several cases in recent decades Israel has declared that it will not deport citizens of foreign countries because of the danger they will face if deported – for example, citizens of the Congo, Eritrea, Sudan and more recently Ukraine – to this day Israeli law has given no practical substance to these declarations beyond the protection from forced deportation. .

The first discussion, in the Knesset’s Interior Committee, dealt with the removal of the group protection from the citizens of the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Interior Minister announced a few days before the eve of Passover, after 20 years in which Israel granted group protection to about 400 Congolese living in Israel, among them 50 children and 130 women. Most of the discussion focused on the factual basis of the Minister’s decision. Among other things, it was revealed that the decision was based solely on an internal opinion written by the Unit for the Treatment of Asylum Seekers (in the Population and Immigration Authority) without receiving a written opinion from the Foreign Ministry, and without having the Ministry of Justice consider the legal implications of the decision. There was a lively debate among the participants over who should be involved in deciding whether to grant group protection to one population or another – or to remove it – and what legal rules govern such a critical decision, which concerns the core of human rights.

There is currently no procedure, law or regulation that clearly regulates what group protection in Israel is: what are the conditions for providing group protection to a particular population; Who are the determining bodies; What is the maximum period of temporary protection; What rights are its subordinates entitled to, and of course – what conditions must be met in order to make a responsible decision for its removal.

Although tens of thousands of people have been living in Israel for nearly two decades under a regime of group protection, and even though ten years ago the Supreme Court ruled in the Assepo judgment (2012) that this issue should be regulated, there is still no answer to these questions.

The main price of the “decision not to decide” falls, of course, on the shoulders of those subject to group protection who live for long periods, sometimes decades, without basic rights and without security for their or their children’s future, in a way unprecedented in other countries. But the lack of a clear policy of group protection also creates chaos and a huge waste of state resources.

The most obvious example of this was in the second discussion this week in the Special Knesset Committee for Foreign Workers, which dealt with work visas for Ukrainian citizens who have been in Israel since the end of February under a temporary protection policy, due to the war in their country. The Interior Minister announced at the discussion that she would extend the visas of Ukrainians in Israel for another month, until the end of June, and also establish a policy of “non-enforcement” regarding their employment. Immediately after the announcement, obvious questions arose around the committee table: How will employers know that they are allowed to employ Ukrainians if they do not hold work visas? Which employer would agree to hire someone who has a valid visa only for another month, after which it is unclear whether he will be able to continue working at all? What are the Israeli family and friends who opened their home generously to the war refugees supposed to do, as they now understand that they will have to support them for an indefinite period, because the state refuses to allow the refugees to support themselves?

Answers? There are none. Elena Harbovetska, an accountant by profession and an impressive young woman who fled the war in Ukraine with her Israeli partner, described in tears the insecurity and existential instability she has lived in since arriving in Israel, as she does not know what tomorrow will bring: “all we know at the moment is the uncertainty of ‘keep waiting patiently’. When we reach the authorities, we hear ‘wait, we have not yet received instructions.’ Tens of thousands of people who are in Israel are in need of help so that they can feel basic security. We are in uncertainty, and the only answer we hear wherever we turn is ‘wait’.”

The Israeli patchwork “policy” with regard to the Ukrainians, which has been creating chaos in recent months, is particularly striking and unusual in the face of the clarity and transparency of European policy towards the Ukrainians, which was implemented immediately upon the outbreak of war. All the EU was required to do with the start of the war was to activate a clear directive that had existed for twenty years, regulating the rights of those under temporary protection. According to the directive, everything is clear and predictable: everyone who fled to a European country knows what they are entitled to and for how long (refugees are given a three-year employment permit). Thus, those fleeing the horrors of war can relax and recover, while the various state authorities clearly know what is required of them and how best to organize. However, in Israel – who can remember how many times in three months the policy has changed, and each time it seems that the wheel needs to be reinvented, as if this is the first time that Israel has given protection to one group or another.

The attempt to remove the protection from the Congolese and the failure to regulate the temporary status of the Ukrainians indicate that improvisations and patchwork policies should be stopped, and laws and procedures should set out a clear and transparent policy of applying temporary group protection. Such a policy will provide security and stability to those who have fled their homes, to the various authorities and to the entire Israeli public, and will save a lot of money for the taxpayer.