Worldwide, the refugee recognition rate for Sudanese is nearly 70 percent. Out of the 10,000 in Israel, not one has been granted refugee status.
By Elizbaeth Tsurkov
The State of Israel recognized just 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 percent of Sudanese asylum seekers whose claims were examined worldwide in 2012 were granted refugee status worldwide (see table 11). Israel is home to about 10,000 Sudanese asylum seekers. How is that none of them have been 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 Prevention of 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, “this permit is not a work permit,” despite a High Court ruling that forbids the state from fining 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, the state recognizes the dangers 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 has managed to not recognize any Sudanese national as a refugee first of all by preventing them from filing asylum claims until early 2013. At that point, the Interior Ministry succumbed to pressure from the Hotline for Refugees and Migrants and allowed detained Eritrean and Sudanese asylum seekers 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 negative. Most of the asylum claims were filed over a year ago. For asylum seekers currently detained under the anti-infiltration law, some of them for over two years now, the consequence of receiving refugee status would be release from indefinite detention.
The previous amendment to the anti-infiltration law, which was voided by the High Court of Justice (HCJ), stated that asylum seekers who did not receive a response to their asylum claim within nine months of its filing, can be released. According to the new amendment to the law, however, the Interior Ministry is not obligated to examine the asylum claims of the detainees in Holot in a specified 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, 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 he crossed the border. A. is from Darfur but worked in a city in the souther Sudanese Blue Nile region, where there is an active rebellion against the regime, which the goverment is repressing with the 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 that he be given an opportunity to ask for asylum. Only in February 2013 did he manage to file the claim because the Interior Ministry hadn’t provided the necessary forms to prisoners in Saharonim, and the activists from the Hotline who met him were not allowed to bring papers inside. In May 2013, the Interior Ministry interviewed A. regarding his asylum claims. Although over nine months passed since filing 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, just down the road from Saharonim. Currently, A. is still detained in Holot, with no release date, without ever having been convicted of a crime.
The Interior Ministry is not in a rush. Why examine the asylum claims of survivors of genocide in Darfur, ethnic cleansing in the Nuba Mountains and victims of murderous oppression when the law allows them to ignore those of detainees in Holot and others just trying to survive outside of prison? That is the only way the state can ensure many of them will succumb to its pressure and “agree” to be deported to the homeland from which they fled. After all, if just a few of the Sudanese nationals in Israel were to be recognized as refugees, the rest might develop hope that one day they, too, will enjoy security and a decent life in Israel.
Elizbaeth Tsurkov is an activist at the Hotline for Refugees and Migrants.