For the First Time, Israel’s Supreme Court Recognized Refugees
Yesterday (9.2.2020), the Supreme Court approved a petition and ruled that a family that fled from its country, the Ivory Coast, must be granted refugee status. The family requested to stay in Israel out of fear that should they return to their country of origin, their two daughters, aged 7 and 13, would be at risk of falling victim to the horrifying practice of female genital mutilation, also known as female circumcision, which is still widespread in some regions of the Ivory Coast. The family was represented by Attorneys Michal Pomerantz and Asaf Weitzen.
Refugee law recognizes female genital mutilation as a form of persecution that warrants granting asylum. The Ministry of the Interior has also agreed that it may be a grounds for asylum, but has claimed that the family may find protection elsewhere. The two judges did not accept this claim, and ruled that the family must be granted asylum in Israel. The third judge agreed in principle that the family members are refugees, yet opted to make do with a “trick” that the Interior Ministry has used repeatedly to avoid the necessity of recognizing refugees – grant the family status on the basis of “humanitarian considerations.”
The Supreme Court ruling aroused criticism and claims that the ruling would lead to a surge of women seeking asylum on these grounds. Among others, such claims were made by the Interior Minister Aryeh Deri and Member of Knesset Ayelet Shaked. According to Attorney Oded Feller, the director of ACRI’s Legal Department, criticism of the court’s decision is unfounded. “Whoever fears that girls fleeing the atrocity of forced genital mutilation will come here in droves is misled and deceptive. I wish them success in saving themselves and hope we may be granted the opportunity to help protect them from their oppressors, who corrupt, rape, and oppress them, robbing them of their lives, freedom, and dignity. Whoever tries to intimidate these women is in one word – racist.”