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Refugees Hunger Strike in Jerusalem

Report and letter sending campaign

The Alternative Information Center

13 Aug. 2002

A group of 20 recognized refugees started a hunger-strike yesterday (12 August) in Jerusalem, demanding that Israel grant them rights according to the 1951 U.N Convention and the 1967 Protocol relating the Status of Refugees ("the Convention"). Women with young babies and elderly people are standing in the punishing Jerusalem heat demanding to be heard. This morning, one of the strikers, an elderly man with heart problems, was rushed to the hospital.

All the members of this group were recognized as refugees under the Convention during 2001 by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Geneva ("UNHCR"). The determination process took approximately 2 years (per case) during which the asylum seekers received no legal status or any other form of assistance from the State of Israel. After being recognized as refugees, they submitted to the Ministry of the Interior, at the beginning of 2002, applications for temporary residency. Although 8 months passed, those applications were not answered.

We ask that you urgently write to demand that Israel uphold its international and moral obligations and immediately grant the refugees the legal status that will guarantee their fundamental needs. Below is a sample letter, which can be used; the letter was drafted by Physicians for Human Rights - Israel, which also stands in solidarity with the refugees and their hunger strike.

The letters should be sent to:

Mr. Shimon Peres
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs
Fax: +972 (0) 2 5303506
Email: sar@mofa.gov.il

Mr. Meir Shetreet
Minister of Justice
Fax: +972 (0) 2 6285438
Email: sar@justice.gov.il

Mr. Eliyahu Yishai
Minister of Interior
Fax: +972 (0) 2 5670616
Email: sar@moin.gov.il

Dear Sir,

Re: Israel's Violation of the 1951 UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees - A Refugees Hunger Strike in Jerusalem

A group of 20 recognized refugees started a hunger-strike yesterday in Jerusalem, demanding that Israel grant them rights according to the 1951 U.N Convention and the 1967 Protocol relating the Status of Refugees ("the Convention"). Women with young babies and elderly people are standing in the punishing Jerusalem heat demanding to be heard. This morning, one of the strikers, an elderly man with heart problems, was rushed to the hospital.

All the members of this group were recognized as refugees under the Convention during 2001 by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Geneva ("UNHCR"). The determination process took approximately 2 years (per case) during which the asylum seekers received no legal status or any other form of assistance from the State of Israel. After being recognized as refugees, they submitted to the Ministry of the Interior, at the beginning of 2002, applications for temporary residency. Although 8 months passed, those applications were not answered.

Apparently the Ministry of the Interior demands that the new National Status Granting Body ("NSGB"), established at the beginning of 2002, will re-examine all the cases, already decided by the UNHCR. In the meantime, the Ministry decided to give work permits for a period of three months to the refugees. As you know, work permits do not entitle their holders to free medical treatment, nor any other social benefits. Therefore, this decision does not alleviate the distress of the refugees nor their need for safe haven.

Leaving the refugees for a whole year without minimal security and basic social services violates Israel's commitment under the Convention. Forcing them now to wait again for a new determination procedure, infringes upon their rights and demonstrates indifference to their most basic needs.

We turn to you, as the head of the Ministry of the Interior to ensure that the refugees are granted the legal status that will answer their basic needs for protection. Due to the hunger strike, we cannot stress enough the urgency of your intervention.

Respectfully yours,