Home | News    Tuesday 15 January 2008

Israel delivers residence permit to 500 Sudanese

January 14, 2008 (BEERSHEBA, Israel) — The Israeli Ministry of the Interior has begun to distribute Israeli ID cards to hundreds of refugees from the war-ravaged Darfur region of Sudan, granting them transient residency. The process of reaching all the refugees is expected to take several weeks.

A Sudanese refugee stands, 11 July 2007, behind an Israeli flag at a park near the Israeli Parliament building in Jerusalem, during a rally calling the Israeli government for assistance. (AFP Photo)

"We are issuing ID cards for transient residency to 500 Darfurian refugees, as recommended by UNHCR [UN Refugee Agency]," said Sabin Haddad, a spokeswoman for the ministry. The status will allow them to receive social benefits, such as health care, from the state. The ID cards are up for renewal every year.

"Finally, I will not have to worry about being deported. Now I can sleep safely at night," said Ahmed, an overjoyed young refugee from Darfur who is set to receive the ID card.

Haddad also said that a group of Eritrean refugees would be granted work permits. Sharon Harel, from the UNHCR in Tel Aviv, said the decision to grant work permits to the Eritreans would allow them to sustain themselves until the situation in their home country became "clearer".

Eritrean asylum-seekers have been almost completely dependent over the past year on donations of food and shelter, arranged by volunteers, as they were not allowed to work.

"The state is taking some positive action which will take some of the burden off the volunteers and allow the refugees to re-build their lives," Elisheva Milokovsky, a volunteer working with African refugees, told IRIN, adding that the news on the ID cards was "exciting". She said she wanted the government to grant such a status to all Sudanese refugees.

Over 4,000 African refugees and asylum-seekers have crossed illegally into Israel from Egypt during the past three years, including several hundred from Darfur, according to the UN and Israeli non-governmental organisations.

The UNHCR has recommended, in debates over the past two years, that all Darfur asylum-seekers in Israel be granted Temporary Protected Status (TPS).


However, over 3,500 African refugees, many of them from southern Sudan, are still in a legal limbo. While Sudanese asylum-seekers are allowed to work and their children attend state-run schools, they say the uncertainty regarding their future is hurting the community.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, when he said in October 2007 that the government would grant transient residency to nearly 500 refugees from Darfur, also said the non-Darfur asylum-seekers in Israel were economic migrants and not deserving of a protected status.

Meanwhile, The Hotline for Migrant Workers, a local NGO, filed a petition to the Israeli high court last week, demanding that the state immediately close the "tent camp" at Ktsiyot prison, near Beersheba, where 1,000 asylum-seekers, over 200 of them women and children, are held in "harsh conditions".

On the night of 13 January, a group of African asylum-seekers was spotted walking on the road between the Ktsiyot camp and Beersheba, the closest major city. While the whereabouts of that group is currently unknown, the Israeli Prison Service (IPS) told reporters that about 30 citizens of the Ivory Coast were released from detention as they had not seen a judge within 14 days, as required by local law. The IPS said the asylum-seekers were placed on a bus to Beersheba.