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Asylum in Israel for Ukrainians during the war with Russia

Joshua Pex
Joshua Pex

In the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine (22.02.22), Ukrainian citizens who arrive in Israel are eligible to apply for asylum in the country. The authorities’ policy in recent years has been to automatically reject Ukrainian asylum seekers in Israel, thus assistance may be needed by an attorney specializing in visas and entrance to Israel.

Our law offices specialize in immigration law and entrance to Israel. We assist, among others, those seeking asylum in Israel, whether from African countries, CIS, Asia, or other countries, in the process of application interviews for asylum, actualizing their rights, or submitting an appeal after an application is rejected. Many of our clients are currently in Israel, even years after the first application for asylum was rejected – after we explained the circumstances justifying their remaining in Israel and the threat to their lives and those of their families if they were to return to their country of origin. We handle both internal appeals (to the Population Authority) and external appeals (to the courts). If bringing in Ukranian friends, relatives, or a spouse, or if the asylum application of one of these has been refused, we will be happy to help you find refuge in the state of Israel during the current crisis.

Why have the immigration authorities refused Ukrainians’ asylum applications in the past?

After 2014, when Russia annexed the Crimean Peninsula and a civil war broke out in Ukraine, tens of thousands of asylum seekers began coming to Israel – some from the war-torn eastern part of Ukraine, and some from other places. Israel is a developed nation with a high standard of living, home to many Russian and Ukrainian speakers. In addition to these obvious advantages, Israel is particularly accessible to CIS citizens (and former CIS countries such as Ukraine and Georgia) who do not need to obtain a tourist visa in advance in order to come to the Holy Land. Many of those who arrived on a tourist visa began to pass illegally even without submitting an application for asylum.

After a panic over “infiltrators” in the middle of the preceding decade, the immigration authorities announced an expedited refusal of any Ukrainian, Georgian, or Russian asylum seeker who could not bring proof that they were personally being persecuted due to religion, race, nationality, political affiliation or sexual preference.

Every asylum application based on a civil war in the country of origin, or even fighting in the area where the asylum applicant lives, was rejected as an “idle claim” of someone with economic motives, since the applicant theoretically had the option to move to another part of Ukraine, without personally suffering persecution and without needing to seek asylum in another country.Ukrainian asylum seekers in Israel

What changed in 2022?

After Putin announced his recognition of Ukraine’s separatist regions, Donetsk and Lugansk, as independent states and/or the annexation of these strips to the CIS, the Russian army invaded Ukraine. At the time of writing (late February 2022), the Russian forces are aiming to control Ukrainian territory, including the capital, Kiev, and are bombing military and civilian targets throughout the country. In this situation, it is impossible to claim that someone whose home is located in one of the areas of fighting can find safety for himself and his family within Ukrainian borders. This is the reason that the countries to the west of Ukraine have currently opened their gates to the refugees fleeing the threat of the Russian troops.

This is also the reason why Ukrainians currently in Israel or coming to Israel who are applying for asylum must be handled according to the current law and regulations, and not according to the abbreviated process. Moreover, at this point, refusing entrance to Ukrainian asylum seekers at Ben Gurion Airport or any other entrance point to Israel* is patently neither legal nor moral – return to their country of origin constitutes life-threatening danger, and their application must be examined in detail by the authorities authorized to do so.

At this point the Population and Immigration Authority has not yet clarified the issue of obtaining asylum in Israel, but has already declared a non-expulsion policy for tourists whose visa has expired or for illegal residents from Ukraine. In addition, at this stage funds are not being deducted from the deposits of Ukrainian foreign workers and asylum seekers who are not leaving Israel even though their visas have expired.

*As long as a direct flight from Ukraine to Israel will be possible in the future or if the asylum seekers arrive in Israel via another country, something that does not violate international law.

What will happen after an asylum application is submitted?

The above linked articles by our office provide detailed explanations of the technical process of applying for asylum in Israel. Here we summarize the most important points:

Almost no one, whether or not he is eligible for refugee status under the law, receives official refugee status in Israel. Refugee status is a type of temporary residency, and one of its important advantages is the ability to leave Israel for another country and then return. Virtually all of the asylum seekers in Israel whose applications are not immediately rejected have “a temporary permit for a visit under Section (5)(A)2 of the Entrance to Israel Law,” or, in slightly less bureaucratic terms, “asylum seekers”. If the holder of such a permit leaves Israel for any reason, their 5A2 visa is cancelled, and they (and their family members) face an automatic entrance refusal in the future.

For this reason it is important to make sure, before applying for asylum, that the applicant does not have an urgent need to make arrangements in or visit the country of origin. Family members’ visits between the two countries will be complicated or impossible during the asylum seeker’s stay in Israel.

What about those whose entry to Israel is denied?

Interior Ministry policy regarding the admission of Ukrainians varies daily. Since border inspectors have grown accustomed to refusing entry into Israel to anyone suspected of intending to apply for asylum, it is easy to return to these habits if there is no specific provision to allow the entry of Ukrainian refugees.

The courts have banned the border control from deporting those who are refused entry within 48 hours of their arrival, until they had a chance to speak with a lawyer and appeal against the refusal of entry. The asylum seeker must be notified of this right in Russian and Ukrainian.

Can an asylum seeker work in Israel?

Even though the 5A2 visa received by most asylum seekers will read “This temporary permit does not constitute a work permit,” the state has promised in the past not to persecute asylum seekers working in Israel, or their employers. Therefore, one could say that asylum seekers can work in Israel legally, and they have the same rights as any employee in Israel, except that a portion of their salary is deposited in an asylum seekers’ deposit. For more information, see our article on this issue.

How long is an asylum seeker’s visa valid for?

An asylum seeker’s visa does not have a legally determined length for understandable reasons – it can be extended for as long as return to the country of origin poses danger to the asylum seeker’s life, health, or ability to remain free. Therefore, for Ukrainians, the amount of time for which someone will need to stay in Israel depends entirely on the actions of the Russian army. If indeed Russia is attempting to take over the entire country of Ukraine, there may be a war that lasts years, until the Russian regime collapses. If Putin settles for annexation of the separatist strips to “greater Russia”, leaving “peacekeeping” forces there, and retreats from the remaining Ukrainian territories, the intense fighting may end within a few weeks or months, and the Israel immigration authorities will consider Ukraine as a safe place to which the asylum seekers can return.

Contact us to get help

One way or the other, during this difficult crisis period, our office is committed to assisting Ukrainians to obtain asylum in Israel, as well as Russians who are being persecuted by the authorities for their opposition to the war or the regime. Contact us if you or your loved ones need consultation or legal representation to enter Israel or submit an application for asylum seeker status.

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