Neda Amin, an Iranian-born journalist, blogger and rights activist who was critical of her country’s regime, arrived in Israel almost two years ago amid considerable fanfare.
As I wrote in some detail at the time, Amin, who had fled Iran and written and blogged for The Times of Israel from Turkey, contacted us to say that her life was in danger. Her writing for an Israeli website, along with her other writing elsewhere, had made life extremely difficult for her there: She had been questioned repeatedly by Turkish police, she recounted, and had now been told that she faced being kicked out of the country. Furthermore, if no country would take her in, she said she was told, she would be sent back to Iran — where the worst could happen.
Alerted by me to her plight, the Israeli authorities, to their immense credit, sprang into action. Within days, bureaucratic procedures were expedited, paperwork was completed, and Amin was able to fly to Israel. Her dramatic exit and arrival led the national radio news for a few hours. Safely in Jerusalem, she thanked Israel for saving her. No less esteemed a personage than Aryeh Deri, minister of the interior, who had issued the visa for her entry into the country, tweeted delightedly: “Welcome to Israel!”
Like I said, that was almost two years ago, in August 2017.
Since then, however, Amin has become a woman in limbo in Israel. This is the country where she would like to make her home, to convert to Judaism, to work, to build a new life. She has been able to do none of those things.
She had anticipated that, having been recognized as a refugee by the UN in Turkey, she would in Israel begin the process of applying for citizenship. Instead, she has been required to embark on a labyrinthine process of seeking recognition as a refugee all over again, while extending the “temporary visitor” permit she was given upon entry every three months.
Although the Interior Ministry insists Amin is permitted to work, the document itself states emphatically that “this does not constitute a work permit.” Thus several journalism-related job offers have fallen through — including one, she said, doing social media for a government office — and her efforts to find even the most basic employment have failed; she is thus unable to earn a living. (The Times of Israel has been paying Amin’s rent and living expenses since she arrived here.)
She has been treated politely but, to date, unhelpfully by the Interior Ministry. It took 16 months from her arrival for the Ministry’s Population and Immigration Authority to schedule an in-depth interview with her, at which she was asked to detail her entire life story, as a key part of the process for gaining refugee status. That five-and-a-half-hour meeting was last December. Her lawyers, working pro bono, told her to anticipate a wait of three to six months for an answer on whether her application has been accepted. If so, she would get not full citizenship, but at least an Israeli ID card, a laissez-passer travel document, and the right to work. Those months and more have now passed without any word.
If the authorities don’t want her to stay and build a life here, she has told me, she’d prefer they at least tell her. And then she’ll try to find another country to take her in. But enough of the endless waiting, the bureaucratic stonewalling, the life in limbo.
The spokesperson was quite unmoved when I reminded her that Amin, far from arriving illegally, had been personally welcomed to Israel in a tweet by minister Deri
A spokesperson for the ministry told The Times of Israel that these things take time, that “there are thousands of cases pending,” and that she hopes there will an answer “in the near future.” The spokesperson also indicated that Amin’s case is being handled precisely like those of all African would-be refugees who crossed into Israel illegally. The spokesperson was unmoved when reminded that Amin, far from arriving illegally, had been personally helped to come to the country by Israel’s diplomatic network, and personally welcomed to Israel in that tweet by minister Deri. She recalled, indeed, that she was the one who drafted Deri’s welcoming statement.
Because all she has is that temporary visitors permit, Amin cannot start the process she longs to begin of converting to Judaism. Her parents’ divorce certificate shows that her father is Jewish, but she knows she is not Jewish halachically, and would like to change that. Rabbis of all stripes and streams have told her they’d like to help, but cannot do so until she has permanent status in Israel. “I’m in the Jewish state. My late father was Jewish,” she said to me last week. “It’s my right.”
The Jewish Agency paid for Amin to start learning Hebrew; she passed the Aleph level with 90%, she said. But the Agency is not paying for further lessons.
When she arrived, I wrote about how extraordinarily helpful Israel’s authorities had been, the moment I reached out to them, in ensuring that the risk to Amin’s life was averted by the simple, glorious expedient of allowing her to come to Israel.
Two years later, by contrast, my pleas and those of others on her behalf, to help unblock the interminable bureaucratic process for her to actually live a semi-normal life in this country, have fallen on deaf ears.
That’s why I’ve written this article, which will also appear on the Times of Israel’s new Hebrew sister site Zman Yisrael.
It’s an article that goes out to anyone and everyone who might have the means to persuade the Interior Ministry in general, and the Population and Immigration Authority in particular, to make a priority of Neda Amin’s case. Israel saved her from risk to her life in a matter of a few days. It should not be taking almost two years, and counting, to enable her to start that life over, here, as an Israeli. Dear people with authority and compassion at the Interior Ministry, please fix this.