Court Blocks Lifting of Israel’s Deportation Ban on Congolese Asylum Seekers

The Jerusalem District Court issued a temporary restraining order to prevent the lifting of collective protection status for citizens of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) residing in Israel. Last month, Haaretz reported that far-right Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked had decided to remove the blanket ban on the deportation of DRC nationals residing in Israel, an order that has been in effect for the last 20 years, effectively allowing the expulsion of any Congolese citizen who does not have an individual asylum request in process.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett meets DR Congo President Felix Tshisekedi in Jerusalem on October 28, 2021 (Photo: GPO)

In response to a petition by refugee rights organizations, the district court’s decision suspends Shaked’s policy change pending the state’s response to the injunction. Judge David Gideoni explained that he made the decision to prevent “significant and irrevocable harm.” The Interior Ministry last attempted to lift the ban on repatriation in 2018, but the government reconsidered and deferred any such decision after court petitions were filed challenging any change.

According to data obtained by Haaretz, there are currently 400 Congolese nationals living in Israel, of whom 264 are asylum seekers with open asylum applications yet to be ruled upon – protecting them from deportation until their applications are processed. The Population Authority said it plans to accelerate the examination process. Minister Shaked allegedly made her decision based on reports that the situation in Congo is stable, defined as no longer dangerous to return to. The decision was also based upon a redacted opinion by the Foreign Affairs Ministry.

The Director of the Refugee and Migrant Hotline, Dr. Ayelet Oz, flatly rejected this claim. “The situation in Congo, in security, political, and humanitarian terms, is very severe, to the point of imminent mortal danger to residents of broad swaths of the country,” she said. “The decision to remove the protection of those in Israel is tainted with extreme irrationality, and is disproportionate and contrary to international law binding the state.”

The court petition that led to the district court’s restraining order was filed Tuesday morning by the Refugees and Migrants Hotline, HIAS Israel, Physicians for Human Rights, the African Refugee Development Center, ASSAF – the Aid Organization for Refugees and Asylum Seekers in Israel and the Association for Civil Rights in Israel. The coalition turned to the courts after their appeals to the Foreign Affairs Ministry, Justice Ministry and the Population and Immigration Authority went unanswered.