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UNHCR welcomes launch of national refugee agency in Israel

UNHCR welcomes launch of national refugee agency in Israel

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) today welcomed the inauguration in Israel of a national agency to deal with asylum seekers.

The refugee status granting body, comprising officials from the Justice, Interior and Foreign Affairs Ministries and presided over by a judge, reviewed 15 cases this week in its initial meeting, according to a spokesman for UNHCR. The agency will continue throughout 2002 to prepare cases for submission, eventually handing over responsibility to the Israeli Government.

Last year Israel, a signatory of the 1951 Refugee Convention and the 1967 Protocol, granted asylum seekers the right to work, UNHCR spokesman Kris Janowski said at a press briefing in Geneva. Asylum seekers generally have been not detained, except for individuals arriving from States that Israel may perceive as “enemy” countries.

Once recognized as refugees, asylum seekers generally integrate into the society, although some are occasionally resettled to a third country, Mr. Janowski said. There are currently some 200 asylum seekers in Israel, primarily from Africa and the Middle East.

“UNHCR is heartened by Israel’s new involvement in refugee status determination that we believe will further deepen its understanding of the needs of individuals seeking asylum,” Mr. Janowski said.