Power of Attorney: Training Israeli lawyers in refugee and asylum law

Posted by Sivan Carmel on Tue, Jan 15, 2013 at 16:17 pm

The Israeli asylum system and the status of asylum seekers are the subject of an increasing rate of litigation in Israel. The rapidly growing number of legal proceedings is, in turn, contributing to the development of a nascent, but significant, area of law in Israel.

At HIAS Israel we follow this evolution with keen interest. We recognize the critical role that legal representation plays in the lives of individual asylum seekers, but at the same time we believe that increased legal representation benefits the asylum system itself, as litigation allows for more judicial review of state decisions and encourages a legal discourse about the proper way to adjudicate refugee claims.

Although Israel has no law that governs the rights, obligations, and status of asylum seekers, in the past year we have witnessed extensive legislative, administrative, and judicial activity that has de facto changed the way this population is treated. For example, the Prevention of Infiltration Law has been amended, broadening the definition of "infiltrator" and extending the period of detention that may be imposed on individuals who meet this definition. Other two relatively new procedures allow for the administrative detention of asylum seekers involved in criminal activity and address the status and rights of stateless people in Israel.

According to statistics published by the Israeli Population, Immigration and Border Authority, there are approximately 60,000 asylum seekers in Israel. Most are not represented in the administrative proceedings regarding their claims, and their access to judicial review by the courts is limited.

Examples of people who struggle to navigate this system without legal representation are countless. There is the story of S, an asylum seeker from Eritrea who was detained together with her infant daughter after illegally crossing the border into Israel. She faces three years of detention but does not know how to make an asylum claim. There is the story of M, an asylum seeker from Ethiopia whose claim was summarily rejected. He experienced difficulty communicating with the interpreter in his asylum interview and now has 72 hours to leave the country or face deportation.

When meeting with asylum seekers and our colleague NGOs we encounter many situations in which legal representation has made—or would have made—a critical difference in the outcome of the case. Often, it is the difference between receiving protection and facing return to a persecutory situation.

The quickly developing field of refugee law in Israel is in desperate need of skilled attorneys who can meet the demand for representation of asylum seekers and help shape the Israeli asylum system so that it is based on a foundation of fair and coherent principles of law.

It was this realization that led us to seek a way to provide training in refugee and asylum law to Israeli lawyers. To achieve this goal, we have partnered with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the Tel Aviv University Lawyer Training Institute to create a fascinating five-session course.

The program will include lectures (mostly in Hebrew) by leading experts in the field from the academic world, private sector, NGOs, and government. The training will provide participants with the core principles, as well as a review of recent developments in case law and policy. Emphasis will be given to the practical experience of attorneys in this field. The training also will focus on related fields, such as asylum seekers in the administrative and criminal law systems.

The trainings cost 500 NIS and will be held at Tel Aviv University on January 28, February 4, February 11, February 18, and March 4, from 4 pm – 7:15 pm. If you are interested in participating, you can learn more by reviewing the training program in Hebrew or contacting Sivan Carmel.

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