Aid Organization for Refugees and Asylum Seekers in Israel

Israel's Supreme Court to state: Asylum seekers also deserve due process

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Date: 21.5.14 Source: Haaretz, Ilan Lior

The Supreme Court urged the Interior Ministry on Wednesday to change its procedures for ordering asylum seekers to the Holot detention facility, saying it ought to grant the migrants a hearing with legal representation, and not just a brief questioning session, before issuing the summons.

The court ordered the state to respond to its suggestion within a week.

The judicial panel, comprising Supreme Court President Asher Grunis and justices Uzi Vogelman and Isaac Amit, were hearing the appeal of Mutasim Ali, a Sudanese national and one of the leaders of the local African refugee protest movement, who is now being held in Holot.

Ali was ordered to report to Holot in January. The Tel Aviv District Court, which upheld the summons, as did the Supreme Court, on appeal. It refused to freeze the order to report to Holot, which he did two weeks ago.

Asylum seekers who come to the Population, Immigration and Border Authority offices to renew their temporary visas now automatically receive a summons to report to Holot. Before issuing the summonses the population authority clerks merely ask them a few questions, for which they are not prepared, and then grant them a visa extension for 30 days, at the end of which they are expected to report to the detention facility in the south, where they can be held for an unlimited amount of time.

The Interior Ministry’s Population, Immigration and Border Authority argued that during the 30-day extension period, migrants have the opportunity to request that they be allowed to state their case.

In his appeal, Ali, who is represented by attorneys Asaf Weitzan and Nimrod Avigal of the Hotline for Refugees and Migrants, argued that the administrative procedure is faulty because the summons is issued without a hearing and with no explanation given.

The Tel Aviv District Court had rejected his appeal because he did not show up for a post-summons questioning session, scheduled after Ali threatened legal action against the agency.

The Supreme Court yesterday also criticized Ali’s failure to report for questioning, but ordered the authority to grant him another hearing. Until that hearing, Ali must remain in Holot.

The population authority has argued in recent months that it is not required to conduct hearings for refugees and asylum seekers before ordering them to report to Holot, saying it was sufficient to question them briefly to determine whether they met the criteria for being sent to Holot or if there were grounds to cancel the order.

Vogelman said at yesterday’s hearing he believed the agency must conduct a full hearing before ordering asylum seekers to report to Holot.

He added that when a refugee or asylum seeker comes to renew his visa, he should be given a date for a hearing, not a summons, and his visa should be extended until the hearing date. Only after the hearing should the agency make a decision, and even if the individual is ordered to Holot they must be given time to make arrangements.

Attorney Yochi Gnessin of the State Prosecutor’s Office objected to the court’s suggestion, arguing that if a refugee is called to a hearing rather than being slapped with a summons immediately, he or she might not report.

The justices argued that that would not be in the refugee’s interest, since in that event his or her visa would certainly not be renewed. Moreover, they said, a refugee who wanted to “disappear” could do so at any time, with or without a hearing being scheduled.

Gnessin said that a small fictitious-marriage industry had sprung up over the past few months, because the authority does not summon married men or fathers to Holot. “If I give 10 days to prepare for a hearing, in those 10 days he’ll find the marriage industry,” she said.

Grunis, however, rejected this argument as well. “They can’t get married after receiving the summons? Of course they can.” Added Amit: “At least they won’t manage to have a baby in 10 days.”

After the hearing, Ali said he was prepared to remain in Holot for now. “What’s most important is that the administrative procedure for issuing these summonses be changed, because I represent everybody,” he said. “There must be a hearing before being ordered to detention.”

Weitzan made it clear that he believes Holot is no place to send anyone, certainly not people like Ali, no matter what the administrative procedure. “But in any case, the court’s suggestion will give people access to legal representation before a decision is made, and allow them to state their case, which would be an example of a reasonable administrative procedure even for a place that is unreasonable in the first place.”