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Asylum seekers in Israel – procedure for determining refugee status

Joshua Pex
Joshua Pex

How to apply for refugee status in Israel?

Asylum seekers in Israel apply to the Ministry of the Interior to receive refugee status. The application is made on the basis of the Procedure for the Treatment of Asylum Seekers, which was updated in 2017. The objective of the procedure is to quickly process requests for refugee status in Israel. Our law office specializes in immigration to Israel. We have experience in assisting asylum seekers in Israel. This article by Israeli Attorney Joshua Pex will explain the process of applying for refugee status in Israel.

What is the legal basis for processing the claims of asylum seekers in Israel?

Asylum seekers in IsraelIsrael has signed in the year 1951 the United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and the International Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees of 1967. This later protocol removes certain limitations of the 1951 UN Refugees Convention.

The Convention defines a refugee as a person who has been forced to leave his country due to “a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion”. According to the Convention, a refugee may not be deported to his country of origin or to another place where his life or liberty are in danger due to persecution. In addition, a refugee is not subject to whatever punishment the country he escaped to has for illegal immigrants. Also, the UN Convention for refugees states that an asylum seeker may not be deported from said country (since the refugee flees to another country out of fear for his life, rather than for illegal purposes). Furthermore, the refugee is entitled to the right to work in the country in which he had found refuge.

Refugees in Israel before 2009 would submit an asylum request at the UNHCR office

Prior to 2009, the processing of requests by asylum seekers in Israel was assigned to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) office in Tel Aviv. The UN organization interviewed asylum seekers, examined their documents, and determined whether they were eligible for refugee status in Israel. After the increased influx of asylum seekers in Israel from Africa and the former Soviet Union countries, the Israeli Ministry of Interior established the Refugee Status Determination Unit. The RSD deals with requests for asylum on the basis of the Entry into Israel Law (1952). This law allows the Minister of the Interior (and his representatives at the Ministry of the Interior, the Israeli Immigration Authority, the RSD unit, etc.) to approve or reject the entry of foreign citizens into Israel. In particular, the processing of applications for refugee status is based on the updated procedure for handling asylum seekers.  The updated MOI procedure regulates the RSD unit’s work with asylum seekers in Israel, the Minister of the Interior, and the Director General of the Israeli Population and Immigration Authority.

When and how does one apply for refugee status in Israel?

A person who enters the territory of the State of Israel and wishes to submit his application for asylum is required to do so at one of the offices of the Population and Immigration Authority The asylum application must be submitted within one year of entry into Israel. Submitting an application more than one year after entry will cause the application to be dismissed. Even someone arrested in an attempt to cross the border and held in custody can file the asylum request from the place of detention. The Immigration Authority is responsible for ensuring that the detainees are aware of the manner of submission of the application and the procedures for handling it. Detainees who apply for refugee status are entitled to contact an attorney of their choice. A foreign national applying for refugee status is required to provide bio-metric identification (fingerprints), personal information, and contact information. This information is used both to identify the asylum seeker during the processing of the application and to identify him at the border crossing if he is deported from Israel and attempts to return.

The process to decide if an asylum seeker will receive refugee status in Israel

Asylum seekers in Israel will first undergo a “basic” interview in which they will be asked to explain whether they fled their home due to a well-founded fear of persecution, as explained above. The Ministry of Interior is required to provide an interpreter so that each interview will be conducted in a language understood by the asylum seeker. If the results of the interview do not cause the request to be rejected outright (see below for explanation), a comprehensive interview will be requested.

After completing the comprehensive interview, the asylum application is discussed by the Advisory Committee. The Committee examines the asylum seeker’s file, including the transcript of the interviews, the documents provided by the asylum seekers, all the information gathered, and the opinion of the Infiltrators and Asylum Seekers Section. In addition, the material in question will be sent to the Israeli Police, the Shin-Bet and the IDF, in order to ascertain their position as to whether the asylum seeker is dangerous to Israel’s security.

If the request is rejected outright for any of the reasons above, the decision can be appealed by proving exceptional circumstances that would justify accepting it.

Reasons for rejecting asylum seekers’ applications:

Asylum seekers in Israel

Ministry of the Interior in Tel Aviv

The most common reasons for rejecting asylum applications in Israel are the “lack of credibility” of the asylum seeker, or failure to meet the conditions of the Refugee Convention required to be recognized as a refugee.

Lack of credibility is defined exactly as common sense would suggest – during the interview or on the basis of the information presented, it appears that the asylum seeker is unreliable, and that his story is false. The asylum seeker’s narrative contradicts itself, or contradicts reality as understood by the representatives of the Immigration authority.

Failure to meet the conditions for refugee recognition – There are cases in which even if every word the asylum seeker claims is true, this would not suffice to justify refugee status for the asylum seeker. In these cases the applicants for refugee status in Israel did not leave their country out of fear of persecution or do not meet the criteria of the Refugee Convention. For example,perhaps a civil war, famine, or an epidemic are ravishing the asylum seeker’s country. These circumstances may cause the citizens of that country to attempt to immigrate to another country. However, if the citizen in question is not being specifically persecuted and in fear for their life, because of one of the conditions of the UN convention (such as race, religion, political activity etc.) they will not be considered a refugee and their application will be rejected.

Lack of sufficient reason that would preclude deportation back to the country of origin – this reason is used to reject most asylum applications by citizens of the former Soviet Union. The meaning is not immediately intuitive, but in summary – a request for asylum in Israel may be rejected even if it is proven that in a certain part of the asylum seeker’s country, the asylum seeker’s life is in danger, and they might be even personally persecuted for the reasons stated in the Refugee Convention – but there is no reason to assume that this danger exists in all areas of the country. In this case, the asylum seeker will be deported to an area that is not a combat zone or poses an immediate danger.

Finally, the State of Israel does not absorb asylum seekers from enemy states. The Prevention of Infiltration Law (1954) enumerates a number of hostile states and is commonly used to define the term “enemy state”. The countries listed in the law are: Lebanon, Egypt, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Iraq, and Yemen. Custom tends to classify other Muslim majority states with theocratic regimes, such as Iran and Afghanistan, as enemy states for this purpose.

What must every asylum seeker in Israel prove in order to obtain refugee status?

A person applying for asylum as a refugee in accordance with the procedure for the treatment of asylum seekers (and not every asylum seeker, particularly from Africa, will be able to undergo this procedure in full) is required to prove that:

A) They are persecuted for reasons of race, religion, citizenship, membership in a social group or political opinion.

(B) Their life is in danger by the Government of the country of origin, or of an organization which controls the country of origin, or any other hostile presence who may persecute or harm them anywhere in the country of origin, should they return to said country.

Obtaining a permit to reside in Israel as a refugee:

If no reason is found to reject the application after the procedure above is completed, the Minister of the Interior may recognize the asylum seeker as a refugee and grant them an A/5 temporary residence permit for the duration of one year. The permit may be extended for one year, two years and then three years per extension. The temporary residency will be revoked if new circumstances show that the refugee is not likely to be persecuted if they return to their country of origin.

Legal status in Israel for family members of a refugee

A person who has received refugee status in Israel can apply for a residence permit in Israel for their spouse and minor children. The application for legal status in Israel for family members of refugees will be examined in order to ensure the refugee does not take advantage of the application in order to obtain a residence permit for a spouse despite not really being in a relationship. The examination process checks whether the refugee has declared the marriage during the procedure processing asylum requests, whether it is possible to immigrate to the country of the spouse on the basis of the relationship, the “sincerity” of the relationship, and more.

Group protection for asylum seekers from certain countries

The State of Israel sometimes decides to grant collective protection to citizens of a particular country, if it was determined that the citizens of said country face danger if deported back to the country of origin. At present, there are tens of thousands of asylum seekers in Israel (mostly Eritreans) who do not undergo a detailed assessment of their claim to refugee status. On the one hand, it is very possible that most of these asylum seekers are entitled to refugee status on the basis of the international conventions and Israeli laws detailed above. On the other hand, the Ministry of the Interior does not specifically examine their requests, but only grants them a temporary residency in Israel.

The State of Israel does not have an organized immigration policy for foreign nationals who are not Jewish. Especially the whole issues of legal status for asylum seekers in Israel is a relatively a new issue in Israel and has become highly political. The status of these asylum seekers who are under the umbrella of “collective temporary protection” on a group basis is subject to frequent changes. The State is making efforts to remove asylum seekers from Israel, had established the “Holot” facility for incarceration of “infiltrators”, and operates a voluntary self-deportation program. In practice, however, most of the asylum seekers remain in Israel. They work for Israeli employers, since the State of Israel has declared that it will not enforce the law prohibiting the employment of foreign workers against the employers of these asylum seekers. This collective defense is temporary and is made on the basis of an arbitrary decision by the government and the Ministry of the Interior, and may therefore change at any time.

Contact our law office in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, for legal information and assistance on issues of immigration to Israel, asylum seekers in Israel, and work as an asylum seeker.

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