Court: Refugee Applicant Should Be Given Work Visa

African migrants walking outside the Holot open detention center in the Negev. (REUTERS/ Amir Cohen)
African migrants walking outside the Holot detention center in the Negev. (Reuters/Amir Cohen)

A decision by a Tel Aviv appeals court is requiring the state to supply a work visa to a South Sudanese man who has applied for political asylum. The man applied for asylum three years ago and, like thousands of others, his case is pending. The court said that the current situation in which the courts have failed to advance his case, while leaving him without the ability to legally support himself, was untenable.

If the decision is expanded to include others in the same situation as the plaintiff, it could require the government to issue thousands of work visas to Sudanese, Eritrean and other African migrants who claim that they would be in danger if they returned to their home countries.

Many migrants in the plaintiff’s situation are being held at a detention facility in Israel’s far south. The Holot facility is not a prison, but a holding facility for African migrants seeking asylum in Israel. Israel has become a prime target for refugees from several African countries, such as Sudan, South Sudan and Eritrea. Each of these countries is undergoing significant political turmoil, with much of the population threatened by various rebel or government groups, depending on who they are.

One of the reasons that it was built on the Sinai border was to keep the migrants away from the center of the country. If the courts rule that the migrants are required to receive work visas, the state will have to figure out a way to house the migrants in areas where there are more jobs, or risk further lawsuits.

Many of the illegals who make their way to Israel claim that they are being pursued or persecuted for religious or political reasons, making them genuine refugees – and preventing Israel from deporting them, according to international law. Israel contends that most of the workers are economic refugees, migrant workers seeking jobs – a category of refugee that can be deported.

In order to examine the claims on a case-by-case basis, Israel built the Holot detention camp in its extreme south. Detained refugees are held there until the investigation against them is conducted. Because of the large number of refugees that need to be investigated, the government’s original law, passed in 2013, provides for stays of up to 20 months in the detention facility. But advocacy groups working on behalf of the refugees appealed to the High Court, which struck down key elements of the law, on the basis of its violation of several Basic Laws, which the court has positioned as Israel’s constitutional laws.

In August, the court ordered the state to release long-term residents of the facility or to prove its case against them and deport them. Over 1,100 detainees were released, but as they are still in Israel illegally, many were re-arrested, and were joined by others. Several dozen new detainees are added every day. The facility has a capacity of about 3,000, and is expected to hit its full capacity within a month.

Residents in Holot are required to be inside between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m., but are free to leave the premises during the day. However, the facility is located in the far south of Israel, next to the Egyptian border and many miles away from any town or city, so there is nowhere for them to go. The facility is reserved specifically for men from Eritrea and Sudan whose refugee status is not clear.

In its ruling, the court said that the Immigration Authority had violated previous promises to clear the backlog of asylum cases by February 2015. That deadline has come and gone, and the backlog has only gotten worse, the court said. In response, the Authority said that the delay was due to the increasing number of refugee requests, and the complicated nature of each case, which requires extensive investigation. The court said that this was not acceptable – that more resources should be invested in order to clear up the backlog – and that if the plaintiff’s case was not decided within three months, the state must issue him a work visa.