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Court rules Israel must grant work permits to Ukrainian refugees

Judge accuses Interior Ministry of violating rights of those given refuge in country amid Russian invasion by preventing them from working

Demonstrators carry placards and Ukrainian flags during a protest against Russia's invasion of Ukraine, on Rothschild Boulevard in Tel Aviv, May 8, 2022. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
Demonstrators carry placards and Ukrainian flags during a protest against Russia's invasion of Ukraine, on Rothschild Boulevard in Tel Aviv, May 8, 2022. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

A judge ruled that Israel must grant work permits to Ukrainians seeking refuge in Israel from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Responding to an appeal filed by two Ukrainians, Tel Aviv District Court Judge Michal Agmon-Gonen said Tuesday the pair were entitled to work permits from the Population, Immigration and Border Authority.

The judge criticized the Interior Ministry for its policies toward Ukrainian refugees, accusing Israel of violating their rights by not allowing them to work even though they are protected from deportation. She dubbed the policy “deportation in practice,” as the inability to make a living could pressure some into leaving the country.

“These rights violations directly impact the ability to live in dignity,” Agmon-Gonen said.

The Population Authority told the court that Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked was in contact with the Ukrainian embassy on the matter of work permits and asked the judge not to intervene in the manner. The judge, however, rebuffed the request.

The Ukrainians who appealed the ruling have been in Israel since 2018, years before Russia invaded Ukraine. After the outbreak of the war, the number of Ukrainians without relatives in Israel allowed to shelter in the country was capped at 25,000. The figure includes some 20,000 Ukrainians who were in Israel on expired visas when the war began. No entry limits were set on Ukrainians eligible for citizenship or who have a relative in Israel.

Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked holds a press conference at Ben Gurion Airport on March 13, 2022. (Roy Alima/Flash90)

The High Court of Justice recently ordered the state to clarify why it instated the cap, despite a years-old diplomatic agreement that allows Ukrainians to enter the country automatically with three-month tourist visas.

The petition, filed on behalf of the Ukrainian embassy, was the latest sign of the struggle Israel has faced in formulating a clear policy for dealing with non-Jewish Ukrainian refugees, a policy that has largely been spearheaded by Shaked.

Earlier this month, Agmon-Gonen filed a complaint alleging Shaked had acted to disrupt court proceedings by asking a mutual friend to speak with the judge and recommend that she change her rulings on Ukrainian citizens entering Israel, particularly regarding the case of a Ukrainian who was denied entry by the Interior Ministry.

The case was swiftly closed by the attorney general, who said her intervention was unnecessary.

Shaked’s history of clashing with the legal system goes back to her days serving as justice minister, when she led reforms aimed at limiting the powers of the Supreme Court.

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