Amid turmoil in Sudan, Israel stops reviewing asylum applications

Amid turmoil in Sudan, Israel stops reviewing asylum applications

Decision becomes public after court ruling over Interior Ministry’s failure to address 3,400 migrants’ requests

Sudanese nationals demonstrate in support of Sudan,outside the European Union Embassy in Tel Aviv, June 25, 2019 (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
Sudanese nationals demonstrate in support of Sudan,outside the European Union Embassy in Tel Aviv, June 25, 2019 (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

The Interior Ministry has stopped reviewing requests for asylum from Sudanese nationals due to the ongoing political crisis in the African nation, according to a report Wednesday.

The Foreign Ministry said the protests “have created uncertainty regarding the dynamic situation in Sudan,” leading to a decision by the Interior Ministry to stop processing the applications, the Haaretz daily reported.

The decision became public after a Tuesday High Court ruling in response to petitions demanding that the state make decisions on outstanding applications.

The petitioners asked the court to rule on the matter after the Population and Immigration Authority delayed decisions on 3,400 asylum requests from Sudanese nationals. The government now says these decisions should be postponed until the political situation in Sudan becomes more stable. It did not clarify how this would be defined.

Sudan has been rocked by a political crisis since the army ousted longtime ruler Omar al-Bashir in April on the back of widespread protests, with the generals who seized power resisting demonstrators’ demands to hand it over to a civilian administration.

Sudanese people celebrate in the streets of Khartoum after ruling generals and protest leaders announced they have reached an agreement on the disputed issue of a new governing body, July 6, 2019. The deal raised hopes it will end a three-month political crisis that paralyzed the country and led to a violent crackdown that killed scores of protesters. (AP Photo)

Tension between the two sides further soared after a brutal raid on a longstanding protest camp outside army headquarters in the capital Khartoum that killed dozens of demonstrators and wounded hundreds on June 3.

Last week, leaders of Sudan’s pro-democracy movement welcomed a power-sharing agreement with the ruling military council as a victory for their “revolution.”

There are about 35,000 asylum seekers in Israel, the vast majority from Sudan and Eritrea, who entered to Israel starting in 2005. Many are fleeing persecution in their homelands and civil rights groups in Israel and abroad consider them refugees, but right-wing politicians say most are only in Israel for economic opportunities.

In 2017, Israel passed the Deposit Law as a means of encouraging asylum seekers to leave the country, according to which asylum seekers’ employers must deduct 20 percent of an individual’s salary and put it in a special deposit fund that is only available to them when they leave the country. However, there is little to no oversight over these funds from Israeli authorities, and asylum seekers have almost no opportunities to check their accounts to ensure that the proper amounts have been deposited.

African migrants take part in a protest in Tel Aviv on June 10, 2017,against the ‘Deposit Law,’ which requires them to deposit 20% of their salary in a fund which they can only take back after they leave the country. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

According to a report in May, companies that employ asylum seekers have failed to pay an estimated NIS 700 million ($194 million) into the funds.

In addition to the 20%, employers are responsible for depositing an additional 16% of the salary to the fund, the same way employers pay a similar amount into pension plans for Israeli workers.

In 2018, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ramped up plans to forcibly deport almost half of the asylum seekers in Israel to Uganda and Rwanda, a program that had previously been undertaken clandestinely. In April, he eventually agreed to a United Nations High Commission for Refugees plan to resettle refugees in other countries. But, bowing to pressure from activists, he canceled the plan hours later, and the asylum seeker community has continued to live in a legal limbo that allows them to work, live, and access social services in Israel with strict conditions.

Melanie Lidman and agencies contributed to this report.

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