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New Israel Fund-Supported Groups Win Key Court Victory for African Refugees

16 September 2013

Washington DC: A landmark victory for human rights was won in Israel today when an expanded panel of the Supreme Court invalidated the Third Amendment to the Anti-Infiltration Law passed by the Knesset in 2012, which incarcerated more than 2000 African refugees without due process or recourse to the possibility of asylum.

“The prolonged imprisonment of asylum seekers in administrative detention is unconstitutional. The Anti-Infiltration Law is overturned,” said the court ruling. Ruling that administrative detention of this sort, which imprisoned refugees for three years, violates the Basic Law: Human Dignity and Freedom, the court said that the state must examine each of the detainees’ cases individually within 90 days and release all those who are entitled to release under the Law of Entry to Israel. Unlike the Anti-Infiltration Law, The Law of Entry to Israel does not allow extended detention of persons against whom deportation proceedings are not underway.

Several NGOs funded by NIF brought this case to the High Court, including the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), Hotline for Refugees and Migrants, ASSAF, Kav La’Oved, and the African Refugee Development Center. The Tel Aviv University Law Clinic also participated in the court petitions. “Today’s victory demonstrates that Israel’s independent judiciary is alive and well, despite the efforts of ultra-nationalists to trammel the courts and progressive civil society,” said NIF CEO Daniel Sokatch. “For three years, the NIF family of organizations has braved tremendous anti-refugee incitement and racism to champion an unpopular cause, the right to individual asylum hearings for African refugees. The court ruling justifies our belief that Israel must review and revise its immigration and refugee policies and comply with Israel’s founding principles and the standards of international human rights law.”

Most of Israel’s 65,000 African refugees come from Eritrea and Sudan, two countries internationally recognized as places to which refugees cannot be safely returned. More than half the Eritreans in the United States, for example, have been granted refugee status because it would be too dangerous for them to return to their homeland. However, in Israel, only a handful of African refugees have been granted that status.

Because many African refugees, upon entering Israel from the Sinai, were handed one-way bus tickets to Tel Aviv, the poor areas around the old Central Bus Station now host thousands of people with nowhere else to go. The friction with the neighborhoods’ original residents, already living at the margins with little infrastructure or support, has grown over time. In addition to supporting the refugees’ legal case in court, NIF funds Power to the Community, the only organization working to unite refugees and South Tel Aviv residents to work jointly for better access to education, health care and other necessities. NIF also supports Physicians for Human Rights Israel, which runs a health clinic in Tel Aviv that is often the only source of health care for refugees.

“Immigration is a tough issue everywhere, and Israel is no exception,” Sokatch said. “Just today NPR covered the tension outside Berlin, Germany, where a new center to host Syrian refugees is being established.”

“But caring for the stranger is a Jewish value. Incitement, racism and imprisoning people in the most dire need is not. We are proud that the Supreme Court has made a decision upholding Israel’s Basic Law and its most important values, and will continue our support for the front-line activists working on these issues.”

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