Sudanese Asylum Seekers Living in Israel
The Forum of Organizations for Refugee and Asylum Seekers, October 2020
About 6,200 Sudanese asylum seekers are living in Israel. By the estimations, many of them survivors of the Darfur genocide and ethnic cleansing in the Nuba Mountains and the Blue Nile. According to the Ministry of the Interior, there are 5,119 asylum seeking requests by Sudanese citizens open, out of which about 3,500 of asylum seekers from Darfur, the Nuba Mountains and the Blue Nile. To this day, only one asylum-seeking request by a Sudanese citizen has been accepted by the unit in charge of determining the status of refugees in the Ministry of Aliyah and Integration, and only after six months of legal proceedings.
Israel is avoiding taking decisions on the asylum requests of Sudanese. The Ministry of Aliyah and Integration is hiding an opinion they themselves expressed - that most Sudanese asylum seekers living in Israel should be granted refugee status: in 2012, the Ministry of Aliyah and Integration published a statement determining that asylum seekers from non-Arab tribes may experience persecution upon returning to Sudan, and that since 2009 most world nations automatically recognize non-Arab Darfur survivors as refugees, due to the ethnic persecution. This opinion has been hidden for over two years from the public and the court.
The majority of Sudanese asylum seekers live in Israel without status or any rights for 15 years: Israel has prevented them from filing asylum requests over the years, imprisoned them in the Saharonim and Holot detention facilities, tried to force them to leave to Rwanda and Uganda, which never granted them asylum, and even today prevents them from getting access to health and welfare services, and imposes taxes and deposits on their employers. Over all these years Israel has been refusing to review and decide on their asylum requests.
The Legal Proceedings
Following the legal proceedings attacking the delay on asylum requests, the Ministry of the Interior assigned a status of “Humanitarian Reasons” (A/5 - Temporary Resident) to some of the asylum seekers from Darfur, the Nuba Mountains and the Blue Nile, but continued to avoid making decisions on their asylum requests. The humanitarian status does, however, grant them access to social security, health and welfare services, and a work permit. But, this status is decided based on arbitrary terms, can be easily revoked, and requires an annual renewal. As of today, about 800 Sudanese citizens have received such a status without their asylum requests being examined, which stands in opposition to Israel’s obligation according to the Refugee Convention.
In addition, following the decision of the Minister of the Interior from 2007, in the years 2008-2009, about 600 asylum seekers from the Darfur region who arrived in Israel by the end of 2007 were given refugee status (A/5 Visa - Temporary Resident), ex gratia and without their asylum requests assessed. In the legal proceedings, the State argued that the status given to them is a humanitarian status, and not a refugee status. In October 2020, the High Court determined that in opposition to the State’s argument, their decision clearly indicated that this population holds refugee status.
In October 2018, the High Court held a hearing regarding the petitions demanding to force the State to make decisions on the asylum requests of the Darfur refugees. In the hearing, the State informed that it would cease from issuing humanitarian status to Sudanese citizens, and instead focus on assessing and deciding on individual asylum requests. In July 2019, before even a single refugee status was issued, and while the violent events in Sudan were on the rise again, the Minister of the Interior informed the High Court that despite the Ministry’s prior commitment, it will cease the assessment of all asylum requests of Sudanese refugees, at least until their country’s regime stabilizes.
In September 2020, the State asked for an additional extension before the verdict, arguing that the diplomatic agreements taking shape with Sudan are influencing the manner in which asylum requests will be assessed. Additionally, the State admitted that in the past two years since the beginning of the assessment of asylum requests from Darfur refugees, it assessed only six requests, none of which had been decided on.
It is important to clarify that even any future agreement for normalizing diplomatic ties will not bring about “paving the path to a solution on the issue of asylum seekers from Sudan'', as reported by Israeli sources. The acts of genocide in Darfur persist, and Sudan is not a safe country for those who escaped it. Israel will have to assess the asylum requests according to the Refugee Convention and issue status to those eligible, regardless of the diplomatic ties with the country from which they escaped. As evidence, Sudan is facilitating diplomatic ties with most European countries, a fact which does not prevent those countries from issuing refugee status and providing protection at high numbers (about 60%) to asylum seekers reaching their borders from Sudan.
The Situation in Sudan
Sudan is a country all too familiar with military coups, dictatorial leaderships and civil wars. In 2003, following a rebellion that broke out in the Darfur region against the oppressive regime, the government headed by President Omar al-Bashir supplied ammunition to militias for fighting the rebels. These militias committed horrible crimes including rape, mass genocide, and ethnic cleansing against the civilian population. The International Criminal Court in The Hague issued arrest warrants against the President for his involvement in the mass genocide and crimes in Darfur. In April 2009, al-Bashir, who had ruled since 1989, was removed from leadership during a mass civil protest. During the change of leadership, violent attacks against civilians took place all across the country, with hundreds injured and murdered and many viciously raped. In July 2019, the establishment of a provisional government was announced and elections were scheduled for November 2022, but since then the number of violent events continues to rise, and tens of thousands are uprooted from their homes.
In June 2018, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees published an opinion on the matter, determining that due to the severe situation in Darfur, the return of asylum seekers is neither promoted, nor encouraged. It further determined that refugees from Darfur who belong to non-Arab tribes (to whom belong most of the Sudanese asylum seekers in Israel), as well as supporters of the opposition, political activists, etc. are considered at-risk groups who have no safe alternative - therefore it is not possible to return them to Darfur nor to other regions in the country. In October 2019, the UN further states that despite the establishment of the provisional government, the situation in Darfur is far from being safe and stable.
In November 2019, the British Ministry of the Interior published a Country Policy and Information Note claiming there is indeed danger in Darfur and Sudan as a whole for non-Arab groups originating from Darfur. Furthermore, the Note recognizes the complexity of the current political situation in Sudan and the dangers standing in the way of a real and secure transition from a dictatorial-military rule to a democratic rule in the country.
The Warming of Relations with Israel and the Impact on Asylum Seekers
In February 2020, Prime Minister Netanyahu met with General Abed al-Fatah al-Burhan, head of the Transitional Military Council, the current ruling body in the country. The two declared cooperation in order to lead to normalizing the relations between the two countries. Netanyahu emphasized that in their meeting the two discussed the matter of deporting the Sudanese asylum seekers living in Israel, but that these claims were not officially validated by Sudan. As mentioned, many world countries are holding diplomatic ties with Sudan and have Sudanese embassies and consulates, and still host within their borders Sudanese refugees due to the rising violence in the region and dangers awaiting them should they return.
It must be noted that the executives of the current ruling body in Sudan are military and militia people who played a main role in the genocide in Darfur and the ethnic cleansing and violence in the Nuba Mountains, Blue Nile and other regions in Sudan. Despite the fact that a number of positive steps were taken since the establishment of the provisional government, currently the situation in Sudan is far from offering a safe haven for the refugees and the uprooted.
It is time for Israel to play its role, assess the asylum requests of Sudanese according to the internationally accepted standards, and grant refugee status to all who are eligible.
The Forum of Organizations for Refugee and Asylum Seekers includes six human rights organizations, working together to promote the recognition of the rights of asylum seekers and refugees in Israel, to amend the defects in the government’s policies, and to create a refuge policy fitting to the legality and morality of Israel. Forum members: ASSAF - Aid Organization for Refugees and Asylum Seekers in Israel | Hotline for Refugees and Migrants | Worker’s Hotline | The Association for Civil Rights in Israel | ARDC - African Refugee Development Center | Physicians for Human Rights