Credit: UNHCR Photographer: Frederic NOY

About the Refugee Rights Clinic

About this Website

The Refugee Rights Clinic is an educational-clinical program operating as part of the Elga Cegla Clinical Programs at The Buchmann Law Faculty at Tel Aviv University. The Clinic was established in 2003 and was the first program in Israel specializing in the representation of refugees and asylum seekers.

The Clinic promotes several interrelated goals:

A. Education future lawyers and jurists in refugee law: The Clinic teaches 20 law students every year. Refugee and immigration law are taught in the weekly class. In addition, the students participate in the representation of the Clinic's clients under the close supervision of the Clinic's lawyers. The students experience all the tasks and challenges of a social lawyer.

B. Providing representation to refugees and asylum seekers: The program provides free legal aid to refugees and asylum seekers who otherwise could not afford to hire a lawyer. The representation is given particularly in the following issues: submission of applications for refugee status or for temporary protection; release from detention; maintaining family unity; promotion of various social rights of refugees and asylum seekers.

C. Developing a fair and efficient asylum system in Israel: Refugee law is evolving rapidly in Israel. The program published several position papers; filed precedent-setting petitions to the Supreme Court and impacted the formulation of the asylum procedures by corresponding with the authorities and filing proposed amendments. In addition the program participated in lawyers training and judges training.

Since its establishment in 2003 the Refugee Rights Clinic represented hundreds of asylum seekers in issues such as release from detention, filing applications for status in Israel (albeit temporary status), etc.

Some of the program's main achievements include:

  • Integration of refugee children in schools in Eilat: the Refugee Rights Clinic co-represented (with Assaf, The Hotline for Migrant Workers and the Migrants Clinic at the Academic Center for Law and Business) a group of asylum seekers, residents of Eilat who petitioned against the policy of the Eilat Municipality and the Ministry of Education to segregate their children in a separate institution. On August 2012 the District Court in Be'er-Sheva ruled that the segregation of the migrant children is illegal. Following an appeal to the Supreme Court an understanding was reached which will gradually lead to the integration of the children in the regular school system.

  • Implementation of the principle prohibiting the summery return of asylum seekers at the border without initial examination of their protection needs: On July 2011 the Supreme Court ruled that the State is prohibited from "hot returns" (return of people who crossed the border into Israel without any hearing or process). The Court ruled that protection needs should be evaluated and that Israel should receive assurances which will guarantee the safety of the returnees prior to resuming this policy (The petition was served on behalf of several human rights NGOs and with the co-representation of the Hotline for Migrant Workers).

  • Presence of a lawyer in asylum interviews: In 2009 the Clinic petitioned to the Supreme Court of Justice aganst the refusal of the Ministry of the Interior to allow the presence of lawyers at the asylum interviews. Following the petition, the Ministry announced it would allow the presence of the lawyers on a trial-basis. Later the right to representation during the asylum interview was established in the asylum regulations.

  • Restrictions of the right of freedom of movement of refugees and asylum seekers: The Clinic served a petition on behalf of several human rights NGOs against the "Hadera-Gedera" policy which prohibited asylum seekers from being in the center of Israel. Later a second petition was submitted against the Ministry's prohibition on asylum seekers to be present in Eilat. Those petitions contributed to the Ministry's decision to annul the geographical limitations policy.

  • Recognition of the right of recognized refugees to family life: The Refugee Rights Clinic petitioned to the Administrative Court on behalf of an Ethiopian refugee and his partner who is a citizen of a European state. The couple demanded that the partner would be allowed to stay in Israel as long as her refugee-partner receives protection in Israel. On July 2009 the Administrative Court in Jerusalem ruled that refugee status is a unique status and that the host country must enable normal life to a refugee in its territory, including family life. Later this right (albeit in a narrowed form) was established in the asylum regulations.

  • Increased transparency in asylum procedures: The Refugee Rights Clinic (together with the Hotline for Migrant Workers) filed several Freedom of Information petitions demanding the exposure of the protocols of the Refugee Advisory Committee. The Court ruled that applicants have an interest in revealing the justification to the decisions on their cases and that this is an issue of public importance which should not be dealt in the darkness.

On 2008 the Association for Civil Rights in Israel granted the Emil Greenzwieg Human Rights Award to the Refugee Rights Clinic. Among the reasons of the award committee was that "the clinic was early to turn the spotlight to one of the current and central human rights issues in Israel, it has led and partnered in the struggle to protect the rights of asylum seekers and refugees in Israel and created a unique combination which harnessed academic powers and students energy to deal with a human crisis.