The Jerusalem District Court has approved a decision made earlier this year by Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked to lift group protection from Israel’s small Congolese refugee community that has been in force since 2002.
But, responding to a petition against Shaked’s move from the Hotline for Refugees and Migrants, the Population and Immigration Authority in Israel, and other organizations, Judge David Gidoni wrote Thursday that there were “flaws” in that decision, made in April.
Shaked had based her decision on information from the Population and Immigration Authority and not waited for an opinion she had requested from the Foreign Ministry that deportation would be safe, the court found.
Furthermore, she had intended to give the refugees just 30 days to file individual asylum requests or be deported.
Some 400 Congolese live in Israel, and 225 of them have submitted asylum requests that have not yet been decided.
The only refugee populations still enjoying group protection are those from Eritrea and Sudan.
Six days after Shaked’s April decision, a representative in Israel from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees asked her to reconsider the move due to the “volatile and unpredictable situation in the country,” the Haaretz newspaper reported in July.
In May, her decision was temporarily frozen by the district court.
Then in June, the Foreign Ministry issued its opinion that some parts of the Democratic Republic of Congo were safe enough for refugees to return, although it advised against deporting minors and their immediate families for the time being.
On Thursday, the court agreed that group protection could be lifted, but only from December 8, to give people time to prepare to leave.
The petitioners argued that the situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo was “far from stable and safe and includes arbitrary killings without trial, the disappearance of civilians, cruel and inhumane torture and punishment, life-threatening prison conditions, persecution of political opponents, widespread and illegal harm to civilians, kidnappings, child abuse by armed groups, sexual and gender-based violence against women and children, human trafficking and child slavery.”
However, the head of the Foreign Ministry’s Africa department, Sharon Bar-Li, told the court that the country was moving in a positive direction.
European states were not giving Congolese refugees collective protection, but were considering each case on its merit, Bar-Li added.
The Interior Ministry agreed not to deport minors and their immediate families and pledged to carefully check the cases of Congo nationals from areas of the country where violence and instability were still widespread. Nobody would be sent to these areas, it promised.
A last month from the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said that the eastern part of DR Congo was experiencing
“an alarming uptick of armed group violence, including increased attacks on civilians and camps for the displaced.”
In July, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees reported that recent skirmishes in North Kivu province between the Congolese army and the March 23 Movement (M23) armed group displaced more than 160,000 people, the report said.
It described a “security vacuum” in Ituri province and parts of North Kivu into which other armed groups had also moved.