Survivors of the Genocide in Darfur Detained in Israeli Prisons
Survivors of massacres and ethnic cleansing in Darfur, who fled to Israel, are being detained indefinitely, some for over a year now. They are being denied the right to seek asylum, and now the State is denying them even the right of judicial review.
Currently, about 160 Sudanese, many of whom are from the Darfur region, are seeking asylum in Israel. Most are young men but among them are minors and women with children. They have arrived via Egypt, and their numbers have been growing steadily, especially since Egyptian police killed at least 27 Sudanese protestors in Cairo at the end of December and detained or deported hundreds of others.
Most are picked up by the IDF while trying to cross the border into Israel. They are arrested for illegal entry and placed in detention centers, and at army bases around the country. Currently 125 are detained in Ma'asiyahu prison in Ramle where they are visited by the Hotline for Migrant Workers and the Refugee Rights Clinic at Tel Aviv University. Another 5-10 are held in army bases / army detention, where access to NGOs is extremely limited.
As a result of objections by the above NGOs and the UNHCR, they are not being deported to Egypt, due to fears, based on previous experience, that they will subsequently be deported to Sudan and executed. However, the government refuses to allow them to even apply for asylum. It bases its refusal on the fact that they are allegedly from an "enemy country". Section 6 of the Interior Ministry's "Instructions for Handling Cases of Asylum Seekers" blocks applications from Palestinians and nationals from most Arabs states, Sudan and Iran. The status of being from an "enemy nation" is inclusive; the State does not check individual cases to verify that they are, in fact, enemies of Israel.
The treatment of Sudanese in Israel contrasts with the way Israel handles asylum applications from other nationalities. Recognized refugees in Israel are released from prison and granted work and stay permits as well as social benefits. Asylum seekers, whose cases are reviewed, are similarly released, and given temporary work permits.
Israel's treatment of Sudanese asylum-seekers violates several bodies of international law which Israel has signed and ratified. Human rights and refugee law (mainly grounded in the 1951 refugee convention) prohibits discrimination on the basis of national origin in asylum policies, and forbid states from singling out particular nationalities for disadvantage in immigration in general. The Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949 requires states to exempt refugees from the measures they might otherwise take against enemy nationals. Ironically, this last provision of international humanitarian law was promoted by the young State of Israel, remembering that the UK had sheltered German Jews during World War II even though they were citizens of an enemy state.
Israeli policy on a practical level is somewhat unclear. At first, the cases of Sudanese entering the country were handled by the Ministry of Interior and the Immigration Authority. They were detained in IA prisons under the Law of Entry to Israel and received the same treatment as illegal immigrants. Because they cannot be deported, the UNHCR in Israel, the Refugee Rights Clinic and the Hotline for Migrant Workers, were able to release some of the first arrivals to various Kibbutzim in Israel. This was done on a case by case basis by reaching an agreement with the Ministry of the Interior, and later, when the Ministry started refusing to release them, by petitioning to the Tribunal for the Review of Custody of Illegal Immigrants. Some 30 asylum seekers were released in this manner.
Recently, we began to observe that Sudanese crossing the border are denied even the treatment of illegal immigrants, and instead are being arrested as if they were enemy nationals. Rather than detaining them under the Law of Entry to Israel, they are being held under "The Law to Prevent Infiltration", enacted in 1954. A draconian law, it allows for the unlimited detention, without judicial review, of anyone entering Israel from an "enemy country". With no access to judicial review, we cannot release them from detention. In the meantime, those held under the Infiltration Law share cells with regular migrant workers and have even have crossed over the border in groups with them, making this distinction unclear.
In response, the Hotline for Migrant Workers and the Refugee Rights Clinic at Tel Aviv University filed High Court petitions against the use of the Infiltration Law in four cases. These are currently being heard in court.
Haaretz article from April 17, 2006 on the petitions:http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/706338.html
On March 1, a high level government meeting was held to determine the state's policy on Sudanese arrivals,
but to date no policy has been announced. Recently, a representative of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in Geneva has arrived in Israel to assess the Sudanese cases. Israel is effectively transferring to the UN a role that normally belongs to the state. The UNHCR plans to try to resettle Sudanese refugees in other countries. However, this process is likely to take months or years.
What are we requesting?
* All asylum-seekers arrested by the IDF should to be transferred to the Ministry of Interior, and have access to judicial review within 24 hours, just like any other foreigner caught in Israel without a permit.
* Sudanese asylum seekers must be released from prison, unless they have actually been accused of a crime or there are individual reasons to consider them a security threat.
* Sudanese asylum seekers should be allowed to apply for asylum in Israel like refugees from any other nationality. The government may verify within a reasonable amount of time, and on an individual basis, that they are not a threat to Israel’s security.
The Hotline for Migrant Workers (HMW), established in 1998, is a non-partisan, not for profit organization, dedicated to (a) promoting civil and human rights of migrant workers and (b) eliminating trafficking in women in Israel. We aim to build a more just, equitable and democratic society where the human rights of all those residing within its borders are paramount civic and political values. We see as vital eliminating exploitation of women and violence against them, the proper treatment of non-Jews amongst us, as well as the broad enforcement of laws, policies and procedures promoting equality and justice. Our vision is derived from the humanistic and universal values promoted by Judaism and on which the State of Israel was founded.
The Refugee Rights Clinic at Tel Aviv University represents refugees at every level, from detention review tribunals to the Israeli High Court to the United Nations. With a current staff equivalent to less than two full time lawyers, we maximize our impact by simultaneously teaching asylum law to Israeli law students, providing legal aid to individual refugees, and proposing general policy reforms. We are the primary source of expertise on refugee issues for other Israeli human rights organizations, we provide training to Israeli lawyers about how to represent refugees, and we recruit lawyers to represent refugees pro bono when we are unable to provide assistance directly.
More articles in this issue:
* Sudanese seeking refuge wind up in Israeli prison cells "Haaretz", April 17, 2006
* ONLY HUMAN: Let Darfurian Refugees Go From Israeli Jails "Forward", April 28, 2006
* After harrowing journey to Israel, Sudanese refugees end up in jail "Jta", May 01, 2006
* Sudanese refugees jailed "ajn", May 02, 2006
* Sudanese Refugees: Disappointment at the Border "Jewish Exponent", May 04, 2006
* Groups Pressing Jerusalem On Jailed Darfur Refugees "Forward", May 05, 2006
* Freedom Bid For Jailed Sudanese "The Jewish Week", May 05, 2006
* Sudanese refugees jailed in Israel "Jewish Ledger", May 07, 2006
* Holocaust expert sides with Sudanese refugees against IDF "Haaretz", May 08, 2006
* State ordered to change policy on Sudanese refugees "The Jerusalem Post", May 08, 2006
* High Court: State can't hold Sudanese refugees in detention "Haaretz", May 08, 2006
* Gov't to help foreign workers' children gain citizenship "Haaretz", May 09, 2006
* Bar-On: Give legal status to more foreign workers' children "The Jerusalem Post", May 09, 2006
* Genocide on the agenda "Haaretz", 13 May 2006