MK Khenin Demands Asylum Status for More African Refugees

The Interior Ministry admitted on Wednesday, June 28, that it is delaying its response to asylum requests from Eritrean and Sudanese nationals in the hopes that the Supreme Court will allow it to deport them to Uganda or Rwanda, thereby obviating the need to decide whether they are entitled to refugee status. The assumption is that, if the court approves this policy, the number of asylum seekers remaining in Israel will decline, Daniel Salomon of the Interior Ministry’s legal department told a session of the State Control Committee of the Knesset.

A demonstration for asylum seekers rights in Tel Aviv

A demonstration for asylum seekers rights in Tel Aviv (Footage: Facebook)

State Control Committee members from opposition parties criticized the immigration agency for rejecting nearly all the asylum requests from Eritreans that it has examined, for failing to respond to applications and for completely ignoring asylum applications from people from Sudan’s Darfur region. Israel has granted refugee status to less than 0.1% of the asylum seekers who have fled from Eritrea and Sudan, compared to double-digit percentage figures for such people by European states.

Hadash MK Dov Khenin, of the opposition Joint List, said he welcomed the Interior Minister’s recent decision to grant asylum status to 200 applicants, but wondered why the number was limited to only 200 people. “There is genocide taking place in Darfur, with ethnic cleansing and serious persecution. We have around 3,000 refugees from that region. The Interior Minister wants to grant temporary residence with some benefits to 200. I welcome that, but why 200? What about the 201st asylum seeker, how is he or she different from the 199th?” The number of 200 accepted applications amounts to under 7% of persons from that region currently residing in Israel and seeking asylum.

Human rights organizations issued a joint statement after the committee session ended, sharply criticizing the immigration agency. “The impression was that they were handling these applications but were overwhelmed by the numbers. The reality is that there is no regular ongoing processing of these applications. Most of them are buried and remain unanswered and others are unlawfully denied, in a sweeping, collective and derisive manner,” the statement said.

A representative of Amnesty International Israel said the agency was “not fulfilling its role and was making a mockery of the courts and the Knesset. There is no need for more manpower, only for goodwill, with proper examination of these applications and approval of refugee status when appropriate.”

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