Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties
The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for members of the press and other media, and the government generally respected these rights. An independent media, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of expression, including for members of the media.
Freedom of Expression: While individuals could criticize the government publicly or privately without reprisal, there were some limitations on freedom of speech. Strict antidefamation laws prohibit racially or religiously motivated verbal and physical abuse. Written or oral speech that incites racial or ethnic hatred and denies the Holocaust or crimes against humanity is illegal. Authorities may deport a noncitizen for publicly using “hate speech” or speech constituting a threat of terrorism.
In April parliament adopted the controversial Comprehensive Security bill that aimed to change the legal framework for video surveillance, police body cameras, and the use of drones by law enforcement as well as broaden the authority of municipal police forces and better regulate private security firms. On May 20, the Constitutional Council ruled unconstitutional the provision of the law that makes publication of video of on-duty police officers illegal. The subject legislation had sparked massive street protests in late 2020 due to public perceptions it would limit freedom of the press.
On July 23, parliament adopted the government’s Upholding Republican Values bill creating a new offense for online hate speech that will make it possible to quickly detain a person who spreads personal information on social media regarding public-sector employees, elected officials, journalists, or a minor with the intent to harm them. Under the law such acts are punishable by up to five years’ imprisonment and a fine of up to 75,000 euros ($86,300). Offenses targeting other members of the population are punishable by three years’ imprisonment and a fine of up to 45,000 euros ($51,800). The law also makes it easier for authorities to block or delist websites promoting hate speech and accelerate legal proceedings against them.
Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: While independent media were active and generally expressed a wide variety of views without restriction, print and broadcast media, books, and online newspapers and journals were subject to the country’s antidefamation and hate-speech laws.
The law provides protection to journalists who may be compelled to reveal sources only in cases where serious crimes occurred and access to a journalist’s sources was required to complete an official investigation.
Violence and Harassment:
In 2019 the NGO Reporters without Borders (RSF) noted growing hatred directed at reporters in the country and an “unprecedented” level of violence from both protesters and riot police directed at journalists during “yellow vest” protests in 2018 and 2019. RSF, which reported dozens of cases of police violence and excessive firing of flash-ball rounds at reporters, filed a complaint with the Paris public prosecutor’s office in 2019. As of year’s end, the investigations were ongoing.
In September 2020 Interior Minister Darmanin introduced a new national law-enforcement doctrine aimed at reducing injuries by law enforcement personnel during demonstrations. Certain provisions of the doctrine, including the designation of a referent officer responsible for engaging credentialed members of the press, aroused concern from human rights and press organizations, who argued the rules could be used to restrict press access. In September 2020 RSF and 40 media companies requested clarification from Interior Minister Darmanin.
In its annual report released on April 20, RSF stated that conditions at violent protests, harassment during investigations, and concentrated media ownership were detrimental to press freedom in the country. RSF also criticized the inspector general of the IGPN police affairs bureau for summoning investigative journalists, which the RSF asserted could “threaten the confidentiality of a reporter’s sources, which are not sufficiently protected by French legislation.”
Libel/Slander Laws: Defamation is a criminal offense, although it does not carry the possibility of imprisonment as punishment. The law distinguishes between defamation, which consists of the accusation of a particular fact, and insult, which does not. On September 29, the Paris Criminal Court sentenced politician Jean-Luc Melenchon, convicted of public defamation, with a 500 euro ($575) suspended fine as well as 1,000 euros ($1,150) in damages and 3,500 euros ($4,025) in procedural compensation, due to Melenchon’s 2016 comments on his blog calling a journalist an “unrepentant assassin.”
National Security: The Committee to Protect Journalists raised concerns regarding police and prosecutors questioning reporters on national security grounds.
Nongovernmental Impact: Authorities opened an investigation for attempted murder after a news photographer working for the newspaper L’Union, Christian Lantenois, was attacked and seriously injured while covering a reported surge of youth violence in the northeastern city of Reims on February 27. The victim was in a serious condition after being hit on the head by a projectile and spent one month in a coma. Senior government officials condemned the assault. On March 1, police arrested a 22-year-old individual, who was charged for aggravated attempted murder and placed in pretrial detention.
The constitution and law provide for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, subject to certain security conditions, and the government generally respected these rights.
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
The constitution and law provide for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights. The law permits the government to cancel and seize passports and identification cards of French nationals in some circumstances, such as when there are serious reasons to believe that they plan to travel abroad to join a terrorist group or engage in terrorist activities.
On January 29, Prime Minister Castex announced measures aimed at curbing the COVID 19 pandemic outbreak. As of January 31, travel in and out of the country and its overseas territories to and from non-EU countries was prohibited except in cases of “compelling reasons.” For noncitizens, return to their home country was included explicitly as a “compelling reason.” Entry of travelers into France from an EU country was contingent upon a negative PCR test result, except for cross-border workers. The government deployed police and gendarmes to enforce existing restrictions more strictly, such as the 6 p.m. curfew.
On March 19, new restrictions began at midnight to combat the third wave of COVID-19 concentrated in northern and southeast France and Paris. Schools and shops selling essential goods remained open, and individuals were allowed to exercise outdoors. Nonessential interregional travel in the 16 departments was prohibited. A national curfew remained in place but was moved from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m.
Faced with the continued spread of the “UK” COVID variant, an increased rate of infections, and the saturation of intensive-care capacity in hospitals, President Macron announced new restrictions March 31 that extended local lockdown measures previously limited to 19 departments to all Metropolitan France starting on April 3 and lasting for at least four weeks. Macron also closed all schools for in-person learning. The national lockdown included an interregional travel ban that went into effect April 6, the closing of nonessential businesses, and mandatory telework whenever possible. The nationwide curfew from 7:00 p.m. until 6:00 a.m. remained in place.
Authorities began relaxing COVID-19 restrictions on May 3 with “deconfinement,” in which middle and high schools reopened at half capacity; domestic travel resumed; and travel certificates were no longer needed for daytime travel. Subsequent loosening of restrictions took place in three stages between May 19 and June 30, progressively reducing limits on nonessential businesses, restaurants and cafes, leisure activities, travel, curfews, and telework requirements and pushing the curfew back to 11 pm. The country reopened its borders to foreign tourists, under certain conditions. On June 16, Prime Minister Castex announced the lifting of the nationwide curfew 10 days earlier than planned due to the rapidly improving health situation and increasing vaccinations. Authorities also implemented lockdown measures and curfews in overseas territories. As of early December, authorities were assessing the emerging “Omicron” coronavirus variant but had not substantially revised the remaining restrictions on movement due to its emergence.
In-country Movement: The law requires persons engaged in itinerant activities with a fixed domicile to obtain a license that is renewable every four years. Itinerant persons without a fixed abode must possess travel documents.
f. Protection of Refugees
The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, returning refugees, or asylum seekers, as well as other persons of concern.
Access to Asylum: The laws provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has a system for providing protection to refugees. The system was active and accessible to those seeking protection. The Office for the Protection of Refugees and Stateless Refugees (OFPRA) provided asylum application forms in 24 languages, including Albanian, Arabic, English, Russian, Serbo-Croatian, Tamil, and Turkish. Applicants, however, must complete them in French, generally without government-funded language assistance. Applications for asylum must be made on French territory or at a French border-crossing point. Asylum seekers outside of the country may request a special visa for the purpose of seeking asylum from a French embassy or consulate. After arrival in France, the visa holder must follow the same procedure as other asylum seekers in the country. Unlike other applicants, however, visa holders were authorized to work while their application was processed and evaluated. Asylum seekers may appeal decisions of OFPRA to the National Court on Asylum Law.
In 2018 parliament adopted a law intended to reduce the average time for processing asylum applications to six months and shorten to 90 days the period asylum seekers must have to make an application. The law includes measures to facilitate the removal of aliens in detention. It extends to 90 days the maximum duration of administrative detention and to 24 hours the duration of administrative detention to verify an individual’s right to stay. The law extends the duration of residence permits for persons granted subsidiary protection and for stateless refugees to four years and enables foreigners who have not been able to register for asylum to access shelter. It includes measures to protect girls and young men exposed to the risk of sexual mutilation, states that a country persecuting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) persons cannot be considered “safe” and adopts protective provisions on the right to remain for victims of domestic violence. By law unaccompanied migrant children are taken into the care of the child protection system.
OFPRA stated that priority attention was given to female victims of violence, persons persecuted based on their sexual orientation, victims of human trafficking, unaccompanied minors, and victims of torture.
The country received 41 percent fewer applications for asylum in 2020 than in 2019, according to provisional data released by the Ministry of Interior on January 21. The decline in the indicators linked to immigration marked a clear break since the 2015 migration crisis and was directly attributed to the COVID-19 outbreak and related travel restrictions that curtailed the number of migrants entering the country.
Safe Country of Origin/Transit: The government considered 13 countries to be “safe countries of origin” for purposes of asylum. A “safe country” is one that provides for compliance with the principles of liberty, democracy, rule of law, and fundamental human rights. This policy reduced the chances of an asylum seeker from one of these countries obtaining asylum but did not prevent it. While individuals originating in a safe country of origin may apply for asylum, they may receive only a special form of temporary protection that allows them to remain in the country. Authorities examined asylum requests through an emergency procedure that may not exceed 15 days. Countries considered “safe” included Albania, Armenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Cabo Verde, Georgia, India, Kosovo, Mauritius, Moldova, Mongolia, Montenegro, North Macedonia, and Serbia.
Abuse of Migrants and Refugees:
Calais continued to be a gathering point for migrants from the Middle East and Africa trying to reach the United Kingdom. As of October, authorities estimated that 500 migrants and refugees lived around Calais, while support groups said the number was closer to 1,500 to 2,000.
In an opinion about migrants in Calais and Grande-Synthe released February 11, the National Consultative Commission on Human Rights (CNCDH) advised authorities to end the so-called “zero point of fixation” security policy, which led to instances of police abuse of asylum seekers and other migrants encamped at Calais and those who provided humanitarian assistance to them.
On September 28, police dismantled the largest migrant camp in Calais, moving some 400 persons to temporary shelters in the region. Local authorities had provided water taps, and aid groups had been handing out meals to the estimated 500 to 800 persons who were living in the makeshift camp near the city’s main hospital. The police prefecture said the camp created “serious problems” for the security, hygiene, and peace of mind for employees and patients. According to the migrant aid organization Human Rights Observers, 15 of the 883 evictions conducted in Calais since the beginning of the year led to police transferring migrants to shelters.
On September 9, the Boulogne-sur-Mer court gave a riot police officer an 18-month suspended prison sentence for assaulting a British migrant-support activist in Calais during an operation to remove migrants in 2018 and for giving false evidence. The court also barred him from serving for two years. Of the two junior police officers who lied in support of the accused man’s version of events, one was given a reprimand while the other escaped disciplinary action. The rights group Amnesty International said the verdict sent a “clear signal” that such abuses would not be tolerated, after many allegations regarding police brutality towards activists and minorities.
In a report released October 7, Human Rights Watch stated police were harassing migrants in Calais, routinely tearing down their tents and forcing them to wander the streets as part of a deterrence policy. According to the report, police tactics also included regularly confiscating migrants’ belongings and harassing NGOs who provide humanitarian assistance.
Freedom of Movement:
Authorities maintained administrative holding centers for foreigners pending deportation. Authorities could hold undocumented migrants in these facilities for a maximum of 90 days, except in cases related to terrorism. There were 23 holding centers on the mainland and three in the overseas territories, with a total capacity of 2,196 persons.
On July 6, six refugee and migrant assistance associations (Association Service Social Familial Migrants, Forum-Refugies-Cosi, France Terre d’Asile, the Inter-Movement Committee for Aid of Evacuees (Cimade), Ordre de Malte, and Solidarite Mayotte) released a joint annual report that estimated 27,917 undocumented migrants were placed in administrative holding centers in 2020, representing a 50 percent decrease from 53,273 persons placed in such centers in 2019. According to the report, the government detained 2,166 children, including 2,044 in Mayotte, a French overseas department located in the Indian Ocean. The report noted the detention and the deportation of children from Mayotte’s holding center were characterized by serious violations of their fundamental rights.
The exercise of an effective remedy against detention and deportation decisions in Mayotte was very limited due to the restrictive regime established by the French government for access to French nationality for children born on the island and the rapidity of evictions. Many children were detained illegally without at least one of their parents. According to the migrant assistance association’s report, some families were separated during these deportations. The report noted, however, that in 80 percent of the cases, the duration of detentions did not exceed 48 hours. Since the law prohibits the separation of children from their parents, they were detained together. Civil society organizations continued to criticize the provision of the 2018 asylum and immigration bill that provides for up to 90 days’ detention time for foreigners subject to deportation. In 2020 the government did not report uniformly screening migrants in Mayotte for trafficking indicators prior to their deportation. The government also did not report taking steps to address the 3,000 to 4,000 unaccompanied Comorian minors at risk for sex and labor trafficking in Mayotte by offering medical, shelter, education, or other protection services.
Durable Solutions: The government has provisions to manage a range of solutions for integration, resettlement, and return of migrants and unsuccessful asylum seekers. The government accepted refugees for resettlement from other countries and facilitated local integration and naturalization, particularly of refugees in protracted situations. The government assisted in the safe, voluntary return of migrants and unsuccessful asylum seekers to their home countries. In 2020, the latest year for which statistics were available, the government voluntarily repatriated 4,519 undocumented migrants to 75 different countries, including 1,374 minors, to their countries of origin, a 48.5 decrease from 2019. As of April the government offered an allowance of 650 euros ($750) per person (adults and children) for the voluntary return of asylum seekers from countries whose citizens need a visa for France and 300 euros ($345) per person (adults and children) for those from countries whose citizens did not need a visa for France or were citizens of Kosovo.
Temporary Protection: Authorities may grant individuals a one-year renewable permit and may extend the permit for an additional two years. According to OFPRA, the government did not grant temporary protection in 2020, the most recent year for which information was available.
OFPRA reported there were 1,606 stateless persons in the country at the end of 2020. It attributed statelessness to various factors, including contradictions among differing national laws, government stripping of nationality, and lack of birth registration. As the agency responsible for the implementation of international conventions on refugees and stateless persons, OFPRA provided benefits to stateless persons. OFPRA’s annual report stated that it made 298 stateless status requests in 2020 and granted stateless status to 74 persons in 2020. The government provided a one-year residence permit marked “private and family life” to persons deemed stateless that allowed them to work. After two permit renewals, stateless persons could apply for and obtain a 10-year residence permit.
The law affords persons the opportunity to gain citizenship. A person may qualify to acquire citizenship if: either of the person’s parents is a citizen, the person was legally adopted by a citizen, the person was born in the country to stateless parents or to parents whose nationality does not transfer to the child, or the person married a citizen. A person who has reached the legal age of majority (18) may apply for citizenship through naturalization after five years of habitual residence in the country. Applicants for citizenship must have good knowledge of both the French language and civics.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties
The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press. While the government generally respected these rights, it imposed limits on groups it deemed extremist. The government arrested, tried, convicted, and imprisoned several individuals for speech that incited racial hatred, endorsed Nazism, or denied the Holocaust (see also section 6, Anti-Semitism). An independent press, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of expression.
Freedom of Expression: On April 1, Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier signed into law the Act on Combating Right-Wing Extremism and Hate Crimes. The act requires social networks not only to assess and potentially restrict illegal content, but also to report online hate crimes, including anti-Semitic hate speech, to the Federal Criminal Police. Online threats will now be treated the same as in-person threats, and threats of violence other than murder, such as of rape or vandalism, both online and in person, will also be treated the same as murder threats under the law.
On July 6, a federal law took effect that enables authorities to restrict the tattoos, clothing, jewelry, hair, or beard styles of civil servants if this is necessary to ensure the functionality of the public administration or fulfill the obligation for respectful and trustworthy conduct. The law specifies that if these are of a religious nature, they can only be restricted if they are “objectively suited to adversely affect trust in a civil servant’s neutral performance of their official duties.” Religious organizations expressed concern, however, that the law could serve as justification to restrict the wearing of religious head and face coverings or other religious symbols and attire by civil servants.
Some states did not permit full-face coverings in public schools.
In August 2020 the Federal Labor Court rejected an appeal by the federal state of Berlin against a regional labor court’s 2018 judgment that a general ban on teachers wearing religious symbols in schools was discriminatory. Berlin appealed the case to the Federal Constitutional Court in June.
Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction. The law bans Nazi propaganda, Holocaust denial, and fomenting racial hatred.
Violence and Harassment: In June, 3,000 persons demonstrated in Duesseldorf against the new law on public assembly proposed by the NRW state government. Police allegedly assaulted a media representative and surrounded and detained 38 minors during the 10-hour event. During his testimony before the state parliament on the incident, NRW interior minister Herbert Reul regretted police action against the journalist and said it had been a mistake. NRW minister president Armin Laschet later met with the journalist and stated freedom of the press would always be guaranteed. Authorities filed 39 charges were against protesters, including nine counts of bodily harm and six of disturbing the peace.
On September 10, Munich police arrested photojournalist Michael Trammer of the newspaper taz for criminal trespass while he was covering a demonstration by environmentalists against an auto show. Trammer was arrested when police stormed the building and detained him in the process of arresting demonstrators even though he claimed he clearly identified himself as a member of the press. Police released Trammer later that day but ordered him not to enter the auto show’s facilities and declared he could be detained again if authorities suspected he might violate the law. Trammer’s newspaper contacted police, and they dropped the two orders, although Trammer still faced the trespass charge.
On April 3, regional broadcaster SWR was forced to abort a live report from a demonstration by the group Querdenker 711 in Stuttgart when demonstrators threw “hard objects” at the camera team. Police could not identify the perpetrators. The German Union of Journalists criticized police for not protecting the journalists. Journalists were also attacked at a March 23 Querdenker 711 demonstration in Kassel.
On April 26, a camera team in the government district of Berlin was harassed by five persons, disrupting a live broadcast on COVID-19 immunization policies. Police arrested four suspects on charges of attempted coercion. A federal government spokesperson condemned the attack and said journalists must be able to practice their profession without fear or interference.
Nongovernmental Impact: On July 7, four individuals assaulted Turkish journalist Erk Acacer, a columnist for the Turkish daily BirGun, outside his residence in Berlin. Acacer told Deutsche Welle television he believed the attack was related to a Turkish businessman, whom Acacer alleged was involved in prostitution, drugs, and corruption. Acacer said he received new threats in late July; police were investigating the incidents.
While the constitution provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, the government restricted these freedoms in some instances.
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
The constitution provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation; the government generally respected these rights.
In-country Movement: Authorities issued three types of travel documents to stateless individuals for movement within the country and inside the European Union: to those with refugee status, to those with asylum status, and to foreigners without travel documents. Stateless individuals received a “travel document for the stateless.” Those with recognized refugee and asylum status received a “travel document for refugees.” Foreigners from non-EU countries received a “travel document for foreigners” if they did not have a passport or identity document and could not obtain a passport from their country of origin.
A federal law requires refugees with recognized asylum status who received social benefits to live within the state that handled their asylum request for a period of three years, and several states implemented the residence rule. States themselves can add other residence restrictions, such as assigning a refugee to a specific city. Local authorities who supported the rule stated that it facilitated integration and enabled authorities to plan for increased infrastructure needs, such as schools.
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, numerous municipalities and state governments imposed a variety of strict temporary restrictions on freedom of movement to prevent the spread of the virus, including stay-at-home requirements throughout the country and Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania’s entry ban on visitors from out of state that expired in June. Citizens challenged many of these restrictions in court, with varying results. In November 2020 the federal government instituted a nationwide ban on overnight accommodations in areas with high COVID-19 infection rates (above 100 per 100,000) to restrict in-country travel. The law also required residents of areas with very high infection rates (above 200 per 100,000) to stay within nine miles of the locality in which they live. All movement restrictions expired July 1.
f. Protection of Refugees
The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, returning refugees, or asylum seekers, as well as other persons of concern.
Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. The country continued to face the task of integrating approximately 1.3 million asylum seekers, refugees, and migrants who arrived between 2015 and 2017. The Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF) reported 122,170 asylum requests in 2020 and 111,788 requests in the first eight months of the year (see also section 6, Displaced Children).
In an August 23 decision, the Hesse Higher Administrative Court (VGH) ruled conscientious objectors from Syria do not automatically qualify as asylum seekers. A Syrian national, age 26, had appealed the rejection of his application for asylum in 2015. The VGH’s verdict was based on the premise that the plaintiff would most likely not face abuse for avoiding the draft in Syria but would simply be conscripted upon his return. The decision reversed previous legal practice in Hesse and followed decisions from courts in the states of Saxony-Anhalt and NRW. Syrians accounted for 33 percent (40,570 in total) of all asylum applicants in the country in 2020.
The NGO Pro Asyl continued to criticize the “airport procedure” for asylum seekers who arrive at the country’s airports. Authorities stated the airport procedure was used only in less complex cases and that more complex asylum cases were referred for processing through regular BAMF channels. Authorities maintained that only persons coming from countries the government identified as “safe” (see below) and those without valid identification documents could be considered via the “direct procedure.” The direct procedure enabled BAMF to decide on asylum applications within a two-day period, during which asylum applicants were detained at the airport. If authorities denied the application, the applicant had the right to appeal. Appeals were processed within two weeks, during which the applicant was detained at the airport. If the appeal was denied, authorities deported the applicant. The NGO Fluechtlingsrat Berlin was critical of a similar “fast track” or “direct” procedure applied to some asylum seekers in Berlin. The organization claimed asylum applicants were not provided with sufficient time and access to legal counsel.
In 2018 BAMF suspended the head of its Bremen branch, Ulrike Bremermann, amid allegations she improperly approved up to 1,200 asylum applications. In 2019, however, a BAMF review concluded that just 145 of 18,000 positively approved Bremen asylum decisions since 2006 that were reviewed by a special commission (0.81 percent) should be subject to legal review, a proportion below the national average of 1.2 percent. In November 2020 the Bremen Regional Court rejected 100 of the 121 charges against Bremermann and two private lawyers, including all charges related to violations of asylum and residence laws. On April 20, the court decided to take no further action on the case in exchange for a payment of a fine by Bremermann, considering the minor nature of the remaining charges.
Safe Country of Origin/Transit: The country adheres to the EU’s Dublin III regulation that permits authorities to turn back or deport individuals who entered the country through “safe countries of transit,” which include EU member states, and Switzerland, Norway, Iceland, and Liechtenstein. “Safe countries of origin” also include Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Ghana, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Senegal, and Serbia. The government did not return asylum seekers to Syria.
Refoulement: The government reported that 137 refugees were deported to Afghanistan in 2020, the latest year for which official statistics are available; the NGO Pro Asyl estimated that 304 refugees were deported to Afghanistan during the first seven months of the year. NGOs including Pro Asyl and Amnesty International criticized the policy as a breach of the principle of refoulement and complained that grounds and procedures for deportation varied widely between states. On August 11, the Federal Ministry of the Interior announced a temporary ban on deportations to Afghanistan due to the security situation there.
Abuse of Migrants and Refugees: Assaults on refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants continued, as did attacks on government-provided asylum homes. On July 22, four unknown assailants attacked and wounded two asylum seekers from Kenya in Prenzlau, Brandenburg. As of November police continued to investigate.
In November 2020 a paramedic punched in the face a restrained and defenseless Syrian refugee at a Kassel refugee shelter; the incident did not become public until police released video surveillance of it in March. The video showed two police officers at the scene not interfering or trying to stop the assault. The original November police report only mentioned disorderly conduct by the refugee, but not the assault by the paramedic. Authorities filed charges against the paramedic and the police officers. The paramedic’s employer also dismissed him from his job.
On February 4, a Saxony-Anhalt court issued a warning and suspended sentence for battery to a private security guard who was captured on video in 2019 beating an asylum seeker at a government reception center for asylum seekers in Halberstadt, Saxony-Anhalt. Two other guards at the center were acquitted of similar charges.
Freedom of Movement: Under a 2019 law addressing deportation, all asylum seekers must remain in initial reception facilities until the end of their asylum procedure, up to 18 months. Rejected asylum seekers who do not cooperate sufficiently in obtaining travel documents can be obliged to stay in the institutions for longer than 18 months. Authorities can arrest without a court order those persons who are obliged to leave the country. Persons obliged to leave the country who do not attend an embassy appointment to establish their identity can be placed in detention for 14 days. The law indicates that persons detained under “deportation detention” – including families and children – would be held in regular prisons. Refugees deemed to be flight risks can be taken into preventive detention. Officials who pass on information regarding a planned deportation are liable to prosecution. Legal scholars stressed the regulations were legally problematic because both the constitution and the EU Return Directive pose high hurdles for deportation detention. The law also provides for the withdrawal after two weeks of all social benefits from those recognized as asylum seekers in other EU states.
Authorities issued 10,800 expulsion orders in 2020, only slightly fewer than the 11,081 expelled in 2019. Persons holding citizenship of Albania (1,006), Georgia (995), Serbia (754) and Moldavia (654) were subject to the highest number of expulsions. In September, Bundestag member Ulla Jelpke (Left party) called for an abolition of the practice, arguing that some of the expellees had been living in the country for decades.
Employment: Persons with recognized asylum status were able to access the labor market without restriction; asylum seekers whose applications were pending were generally not allowed to work during their first three months after applying for asylum. According to the Federal Employment Agency, 234,756 refugees were unemployed as of August. Refugees and asylum seekers faced several hurdles in obtaining employment, including lengthy review times for previous qualifications, lack of official certificates and degrees, and limited German language skills.
The law excludes some asylum seekers from access to certain refugee integration measures, such as language courses and employment opportunities. This applies to asylum seekers from countries considered “safe countries of origin” and unsuccessful asylum seekers who cannot be returned to the country through which they first entered the area covered by the Dublin III regulation. The government did not permit rejected asylum seekers or persons with temporary protected status who are themselves responsible for obstacles to deportation to work, nor asylum seekers from safe countries of origin if they applied for asylum after 2015.
Access to Basic Services: State officials retain decision-making authority on how to provide housing for asylum seekers, refugees, and migrants and whether to provide allowances or other benefits.
Several states provided medical insurance cards for asylum seekers. The insurance cards allow asylum seekers to visit any doctor of their choice without prior approval by authorities. In other states asylum seekers received a card only after 15 months, and community authorities had to grant permits to asylum seekers before they could consult a doctor. Local communities and private groups sometimes provided supplemental health care.
Durable Solutions: The government accepted for resettlement and facilitated the local integration (including naturalization) of refugees who had fled their countries of origin, particularly for refugees belonging to vulnerable groups. Such groups included women with children, refugees with disabilities, victims of trafficking in persons, and victims of torture or rape. Authorities granted residence permits to long-term migrants, asylum seekers, refugees, and migrants who could not return to their countries of origin.
The government assisted asylum seekers, refugees, and migrants with the safe and voluntary return to their countries. In 2020 authorities provided financial assistance of 300 to 500 euros ($345 to $575) to 5,706 individuals to facilitate voluntary returns to their country of origin. Beneficiaries were either rejected asylum seekers or foreigners without valid identification. The largest group of program applicants came from Iraq.
Temporary Protection: The government provides two forms of temporary protection, subsidiary and humanitarian, for individuals who do not qualify as refugees. In the first eight months of the year, the government extended subsidiary protection to 14,565 persons. This status is usually granted if a person does not qualify for refugee or asylum status but might face severe danger in his or her country of origin due to war or conflict. During the same period, 3,393 individuals were granted humanitarian protection. Humanitarian protection is granted if a person does not qualify for any form of protected status, but there are other humanitarian reasons the person cannot return to his or her country of origin (for example, unavailability of medical treatment in their country of origin for an existing health condition). Both forms of temporary protection are granted for one year and may be extended. After five years a person under subsidiary or humanitarian protection can apply for an unlimited residency status if he or she earns enough money to be independent of public assistance and has a good command of German.
UNHCR reported 26,675 stateless persons in the country at the end of 2020. Some of these persons lost their previous citizenship when the Soviet Union collapsed or Yugoslavia disintegrated. Others were Palestinians from Lebanon and Syria.
Laws and policies provide stateless persons the opportunity to gain citizenship on a nondiscriminatory basis. Stateless persons may apply for citizenship after six years of residence. Producing sufficient evidence to establish statelessness could often be difficult, however, because the burden of proof is on the applicant. Authorities generally protected stateless persons from deportation to their country of origin or usual residence if they faced a threat of political persecution there.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties
The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for members of the press and other media, and the government generally respected these rights. An independent media, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of expression, including for members of the media.
Freedom of Expression: The constitution and law protect freedom of expression but specifically allow restrictions on speech inciting discrimination, hatred, or violence against persons or groups based on their race, skin color, religion, descent, national or ethnic origin, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability, or who express ideas insulting to persons or groups on those grounds. On November 11, the parliament approved legislation that allowed prosecution for spreading “fake news.” The law may be invoked by authorities on suspicion that an individual intends to spread fake news regarding the national defense, the economy, and health. NGOs expressed concern the law could be used to penalize media that reported on government actions to repel migrants and asylum seekers.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: The government did not censor media. The government maintains an online register with the legal status of local websites, their number of employees, detailed shareholder information, and their tax office. Once registered, these websites are accredited to accept funding through state advertising, to cover official events, and to benefit from research and training programs of the National Center of Audiovisual Works. All registered websites must display their certification on their homepage. Although registering was an open and nonobligatory process, outlets failing to do so could be excluded from the accreditation benefits. A similar electronic registry is in place for regional and local press.
Libel/Slander Laws: The law provides criminal penalties for conviction of defamation, including libel and slander. Individuals convicted of crimes may not claim slander for discussion of their crimes.
On February 20, Deputy Minister of State Akis Skertsos filed a slander lawsuit against journalist Yorgos Tragas for a broadcast report alleging that the deputy minister had facilitated the sexual abuse of unaccompanied minors by the director of the National Theater. On April 23, a court of appeals reversed the slander conviction of broadcast journalist Michalis Tsokanis for reporting that two police officers in Evia had close ties to far-right Golden Dawn Party members.
Nongovernmental Impact: On April 9, two unknown perpetrators shot and killed journalist George Karaivaz outside his residence in Athens. Karaivaz was covering organized crime and corruption problems. His death, reportedly related to his reporting, was condemned by the prime minister and opposition parties, as well as by the European Commission, the Council of Europe, and media freedom NGOs. Police had made no arrests by the year’s end.
Journalists were subjected to physical attack, harassment, or intimidation due to their reporting in at least three instances. On January 10, a bomb exploded in the car of journalist George Sfakianakis outside the studios of television channel E in Athens. No injuries were reported. Police launched investigations but made no arrests. Government members and opposition parties condemned these attacks.
The constitution and law provide for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights, albeit with restrictions due to COVID-19 pandemic mitigation measures.
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights. Some of these freedoms were partially suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic mitigation restrictions. Internal movement was only for work, limited shopping, and doctor visits, and a curfew from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. was enforced.
In-country Movement: Prior to the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, undocumented migrants and asylum seekers arriving at Greek islands were subject to special border reception and registration procedures and were not allowed to leave registration centers for up to 25 days. After this 25-day period, undocumented migrants remaining in those facilities were generally allowed to enter and exit but were prohibited from travelling to the mainland unless they successfully filed asylum applications.
To prevent the spread of COVID-19, border reception and registration procedures mandated medical tests for all newly arriving migrants and asylum seekers and required 14 days of quarantine. A law passed in 2020 states that asylum seekers deemed “vulnerable” are not eligible to receive expedited examination of their asylum claims or to be transferred to the mainland on vulnerability grounds alone. Once asylum applicants were granted refugee status, they could move off the islands. The law also established closed and partially closed facilities for the temporary reception of asylum applicants, a system NGOs and international organizations criticized as depriving asylum seekers of liberty and having become the norm for most asylum seekers.
f. Protection of Refugees
The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, asylum seekers, and other persons of concern. Authorities also worked with the European Asylum Support Office. Undocumented individuals waiting to register in the asylum system were informed of their rights and asylum procedures. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) assisted voluntary return programs. UNHCR assisted the government with briefings and the distribution of multilingual leaflets and information packages on asylum and asylum procedures. There were reports, however, of potential asylum seekers entering from Turkey being briefly detained and then forced to return to Turkey without being allowed to apply for asylum.
Access to Asylum: The law allows for granting asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system to protect refugees through an autonomous asylum service and an appeals authority under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Migration and Asylum. The system includes procedural safeguards for protection and review, with generally no legal impediments for accessing the asylum process. The law provides for access to certified interpreters throughout the process, to legal assistance for appeals, and the right to remain in the country while a case is under appeal. Tight deadlines guide each step which, if missed, may result a negative decision and a deportation order. On September 4, the government amended legislation to make it easier to deport asylum seekers whose cases were denied, reducing the time for them to leave the country from 30 to 25 days.
The government did not consistently respect the law. NGOs and international organizations reported asylum cases in which authorities denied petitions without respecting the 14-day quarantine for arrivals and without allowing the presence of a lawyer during the interviews. There were reports that asylum seekers attempting to enter the country from Turkey were being repelled or detained without food and water, oftentimes ill-treated and physically abused. Many asylum seekers were reportedly forced onto rafts, which sea currents took back to Turkey.
Safe Country of Origin/Transit: On June 7, a joint decree by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Migration and Asylum designated Turkey as “safe third country” for asylum seekers originating from Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Somalia. The decree states that because Turkey has a functioning asylum process and does not discriminate due to a person’s race, religion, ethnicity, political beliefs, or participation in a certain social group, Turkey is a safe third country for asylum seekers. Applications for asylum filed by persons from those countries who transited Turkey before entering Greece were examined under a fast-track process and could be rejected as inadmissible. Several NGOs, including the Greek Council for Refugees and Solidarity Now, expressed concerns regarding the decree, stating that the notion of a safe third country was not compatible with the requirements set by the Geneva Convention. On August 25, the Appeals Authority in Lesvos reversed a decision by a local regional asylum office to reject the applications for international protection by an Afghan family that entered the country from Turkey and stated Turkey could not be considered a safe third country.
Abuse of Migrants and Refugees: There were allegations of physical abuse or violence directed at detained migrants and residents of RICs by members of the Hellenic Police and Coast Guard (see section 1.c., Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment).
Local and international media, human rights NGOs, and international organizations received testimonials from asylum seekers that they were physically abused and deprived of their personal belongings prior to being returned to Turkey. For example, in a July 15 report, the Greek National Commission for Human Rights stated it had received credible allegations regarding “individual or group pushbacks at Greek-Turkish borders as well as the use of life-threatening methods in the course of deterrence operations at sea.” Additionally, it cited violent fights among rival groups and incidents at the RIC in Samos of extortion, arson, rape of women and girls, and human trafficking.
The Racist Violence Recording Network reported incidents recorded in 2020 of abuse based on of ethnicity, religion, or skin color and against human rights activists due to their involvement in assisting migrant groups (see section 6, Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination). Authorities did not always provide adequate security or physical protection to migrants and asylum seekers, particularly those attempting to cross Greece-Turkey land and sea borders.
Freedom of Movement: Asylum seekers were not allowed to leave the island where they arrived until the asylum review procedure concludes. Human rights activists in Lesvos reported that some COVID-19 pandemic restrictions continued for asylum seekers after the restrictions were lifted for the general population.
Employment: Recognized refugees and holders of asylum seeker certification were entitled to work, although this right was not widely publicized or consistently enforced. There were limited options for employment, made scarcer by the COVID-19 pandemic and bureaucratic obstacles that included opening a bank account or obtaining a tax or social security registration number.
Access to Basic Services: The law provides for access to services such as shelter, health care, education, and the judiciary once the status of a refugee or asylum seeker or asylum seeker is official. Due to staff shortages, pandemic-related restrictions, gaps in the vulnerability assessment process, and other bureaucratic obstacles, asylum seekers had limited access to health, educational, legal, and other services.
Refugees reported difficulties in obtaining documents required to apply for a job or rent a house, and in obtaining the health booklet needed for medical services. Human rights activist reported that refugees granted asylum were only provided one month of subsidized housing. Some asylum seekers suffering from chronic diseases encountered problems obtaining proper medication. On July 21, the European Court of Human Rights issued a decision ordering the government to provide adequate health care to three asylum seekers, an adult torture survivor and two children, suffering serious medical conditions at the Kara Tepe RIC.
On March 11, the ombudsman reported that only 178 of the 2,090 children who resided at RICs were registered to attend school. The ombudsman cited as reasons the lack of staff, facilities, transportation, and resistance by local communities. On June 9, Christina Psarra, general director of the NGO Doctors Without Borders, described the RICs on Lesvos and Samos as “totally inadequate living spaces.” During the year the Ministry for Migration and Asylum had walls built around some reception facilities, citing the need for controlled access and increased security for the residents. For example, on September 18, a 3,000-person RIC was opened on Samos with “closed and controlled access.” to hold migrants and asylum seekers. Some refugee residents and human rights NGOs stated the ministry’s motive was to isolate refugees from the rest of the society.
Durable Solutions: The government accepted refugees for resettlement, offered naturalization to refugees residing on their territory, or assisted in their voluntary return to their homes. In 2020 the number of years of residence required before a recognized refugee could apply for naturalization was increased from three to seven. The government processed family reunification applications for asylum seekers with relatives in other countries. From January to September 16, 1,720 recognized refugees, 1,603 asylum seekers, and 976 unaccompanied minors were voluntarily relocated to EU member states. The IOM assisted the voluntary return of rejected asylum seekers and those who renounced their asylum claims.
Temporary Protection: The government provided temporary (subsidiary) protection to individuals who may not qualify as refugees; no data were available on the numbers assisted.
Israel, West Bank and Gaza
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties
The law generally provides for freedom of expression, including for members of the press and other media, and the government generally respected this right. An independent media, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of expression, including for members of media.
Freedom of Expression: The law prohibits hate speech and content liable to incite to violence or discrimination on grounds of race, origin, religion, nationality, and gender. In cases of speech that are defined as incitement to violence or hate speech, the law empowers police to limit freedom of expression.
The law also restricts freedom of expression by imposing tort liability on any person who knowingly issues a public call for an economic, cultural, or academic boycott of the State of Israel or of institutions or entities in Israel or areas under its control in the West Bank. Plaintiffs must prove direct economic harm to claim damages under the law. The law also permits the finance minister to impose administrative sanctions on those calling for such a boycott, including restrictions on participating in tenders for contracts with the government and denial of government benefits.
On March 30, the Israel Prize Judges Committee for Math and Science petitioned to the Supreme Court against then minister of education Yoav Galant’s decision to deny its recommendation to grant the 2021 Israel Prize to Professor Oded Goldreich. Galant denied the recommendation due to statements Goldreich made and the signing of a petition calling for the EU not to cooperate with the Ariel University, which is in an Israeli settlement in the West Bank. On July 22, the attorney general, in his response to the court, stated the decision not to grant the award to Goldreich exceeded “the range of reasonableness and could not stand legally,” as Goldreich stated he is not a boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) supporter, and his actions did not amount to an up-to-date, significant BDS activity. On August 12, the Supreme Court cancelled the minister’s decision and returned the committee’s recommendation to the education minister for adjudication. On November 18, Minister of Education Yifat Shasha-Biton decided not to grant Goldreich the prize for the same reasons. The Judges Committee again submitted a petition to the Supreme Court, which was pending at the year’s end. The law bars entry to the country of visitors who are actively, consistently, and persistently calling for boycotts.
Conviction of desecrating the Israeli flag carries a maximum penalty of three years in prison and a fine. Waving a Palestinian flag is a criminal offense, but according to a 2014 attorney general legal opinion it should only be enforced in cases of a credible suspicion that the flag waving represents support for a terrorist organization or when there is a high likelihood that flag waving will lead to a serious disturbance of the peace. During the year police confiscated Palestinian flags and arrested activists waving flags during demonstrations. In September Haaretz published a report that Minister of Public Security Omer Bar-Lev instructed police to take such measures only under exceptional circumstances. According to the government, no action should be taken to remove Palestinian flags unless there is a high probability that waving the flag could lead to a serious violation of public order and security, and prosecution based on charges of waving a Palestinian flag are examined on a case-by-case basis (see the West Bank and Gaza report). According to the Human Rights Defenders Fund (HRDF), on September 24, police arrested four protesters who waved Palestinian flags in East Jerusalem on the suspicion of participating in a riot and disturbing the peace by undertaking such activity. One of the four protesters was hospitalized due to a head injury sustained during the arrest. All four were released without an indictment. A judge in one of the cases stated the waving of the Palestinian flag did not constitute a criminal offense.
The law prohibits individuals or organizations that initiate political or legal action abroad against IDF soldiers or the State of Israel from holding activities in schools, but the Ministry of Education had not issued regulations necessary to implement the law as of year’s end. Both supporters and opponents of the law stated it was intended to target the NGO Breaking the Silence (BTS), a group of military veterans whose goal is to end the Israeli occupation of the West Bank. BTS criticized the law as a violation of freedom of political expression.
HRDF reported that the ISA summoned and intimidated some individuals, mainly Arab/Palestinian Israelis, for their political activism. According to HRDF, on June 27, an Arab/Palestinian Israeli woman was arrested in her home by the Shin Bet, and taken for interrogation, while denied access to an attorney. She was questioned regarding her activism against forced evictions in Sheikh Jarrah and stated the interrogators intimidated her and threatened her family.
On January 17, following an invitation for the NGO B’Tselem’s director to speak at a Haifa school, then minister of education Yoav Galant sent a letter to the ministry’s director general and district managers ordering the banning from schools of NGOs that “contradict the goals of the education system, including calling Israel false and derogatory names, opposing Israel as a Jewish, Zionist, and democratic state, discouraging meaningful service in the IDF, or acting to harm or degrade IDF soldiers during or after their service.” On January 18, the event took place virtually and on January 20, the school principal was summoned to a hearing at the Ministry of Education. Adalah and ACRI called the attorney general to direct the minister to rescind the order, which they stated was illegal. On July 4, the Ministry of Education’s director general determined there was insufficient evidence that the principal had had “a harmful influence” on students.
On May 13, during the period of civil unrest and Israel’s May military campaign, the Civil Service Commission summoned mainly Arab/Palestinian citizen public servants from the Ministry of Health to pretermination hearings to explain their political posts on social media (see section 7.d.).
Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction, with a few exceptions (see section 4).
Police regulations grant broad authorities to prevent journalists’ access to violent incidents but also require authorities to minimize the violation of press freedom in efforts to cover those incidents.
Violence and Harassment: Palestinian journalists who were able to obtain entry permits as well as Jerusalem-based Arab journalists reported incidents of harassment, racism, and occasional violence when they sought to cover news in Jerusalem, especially in the Old City and its vicinity. In June the Journalists’ Support Committee, a nonprofit journalist advocacy organization, stated security forces committed more than 50 human rights violations against Palestinian journalists working in Jerusalem in the first half of the year, including arrests and expulsions from the city. In May the then public security minister Gilad Erdan extended for an additional six months the 2019 closure order against Palestine TV’s East Jerusalem office, according to media reports.
During the year, 62 incidents of physical attacks against journalists, including by security forces and civilians, were reported to the Union of Journalists in the country. Israeli police officers detained, used violence against, and confiscated equipment of journalists during demonstrations in Jerusalem. On May 7, during a protest at Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount, police beat Ahmad Gharabli, a Palestinian journalist with Agence France-Presse, with a baton, according to press reports. Several other journalists reported being attacked by police officers while covering events surrounding the May escalation and events in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem. On June 5, al-Jazeera journalist Givari Budeiri said she was beaten and arrested by police and her cameraman’s equipment destroyed while she was in Sheikh Jarrah covering the 54th anniversary of the Naksa (or “setback”), which marks Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza in 1967. Police claimed Budeiri kicked a female Israeli soldier, which Budeiri denied. Budeiri was released after being detained by police for several hours and was banned from going to the East Jerusalem neighborhood for 15 days.
The Associated Press stated police beat photographer Mahmoud Illean on December 17 while he was covering a protest in Sheikh Jarrah. Illean was admitted to a hospital for head injuries. Police did not provide an explanation for the incident, responding that relevant authorities would investigate.
According to the Union of Journalists in Israel, at least 20 incidents occurred during the period of civil unrest in May. For example, on May 6, a police officer physically attacked Channel 12 News reporter Moshe Nussbaum after the reporter raised the problem of police violence towards protesters. On May 12, Jewish individuals in Lod attacked Channel 13 News anchorwoman Ayala Hasson and her crew with stones and tried to break their camera. At the height of the civil unrest, Channel 12 News assigned a security detail to five of its journalists following threats against them, including death threats, due to their coverage of events. On May 18, police arrested a suspect who stated he intended to harm Channel 12 News journalist Dana Weiss and her family due to her commentary on the civil unrest. The suspect later was released after expressing remorse for his comments.
On June 3, unknown suspects shot several rounds at the home and car of Ynet reporter Hassan Shaalan, who covered crime and violence matters in Arab communities in the city of Tayibe. No injuries were reported. On the night of June 18, a device detonated in the home to which Shaalan planned to relocate to in Baqa al-Gharbiyye for his safety. Police opened an investigation into the incidents.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: All media organizations must submit to the Israeli Military Censor, a unit within the IDF’s Directorate of Military Intelligence, any material relating to specific security matters or strategic infrastructure matters such as oil and water supplies. Organizations may appeal the censor’s decisions to the Supreme Court, and the censor may not appeal a court judgment.
News printed or broadcast abroad is subject to security censorship. The government regularly enacted restrictive orders on what it deemed to constitute sensitive security information and continuing investigations, and it required foreign correspondents and local media to abide by these orders. According to data provided by the IDF in response to a Freedom of Information Act request by +972 Magazine, in 2020 the censor acted on 1,403 articles of 6,421 articles submitted to it and banned 116 articles.
According to the media watchdog Seventh Eye, police continued a policy of automatically requesting gag orders during investigations of certain crimes and complex cases to prevent public discourse of active investigations. Police stated in 2020 that police only request gag orders after serious consideration based on the needs of an investigation.
While the government retained the authority to censor publications for security concerns, anecdotal evidence suggested authorities did not actively review the Jerusalem-based al-Quds newspaper or other Jerusalem-based Arabic publications. Editors and journalists from those publications, however, reported they engaged in self-censorship.
Libel/Slander Laws: State authorities, some NGOs, and individuals continued to file defamation lawsuits to discourage public criticism of authorities’ actions, according to HRDF. For example, according to independent media outlet HaMakom, 64 police officers filed lawsuits against 210 civilians between March 2020 and February for posting comments on social media critical of police behavior during police enforcement of COVID-19 pandemic regulations. On January 14, ACRI submitted amicus briefs in 16 such lawsuits, arguing the lawsuits were having a chilling effect on speaking out against police violence and stating that civilians’ social media comments are protected speech under freedom of expression laws.
A defamation lawsuit to discourage public criticism of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank filed in 2020 by the settler regional council of “Samaria” against former member of the Knesset and head of the Zulat Institute Zehava Galon for her criticism of two settlers who allegedly shot and killed a Palestinian attacker, was pending as of the year’s end.
National Security: The law criminalizes as “terrorist acts” speech supporting terrorism, including public praise of a terrorist organization, the display of symbols, expression of slogans, and “incitement.” The law authorizes restrictions on the release of bodies of terrorists and their funerals to prevent “incitement to terror or identification with a terrorist organization or an act of terror.”
The law provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights.
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights for citizens.
The government imposed restrictions on freedom of movement to curb the spread of COVID-19 through emergency regulations.
In-country Movement: The barrier that divided the majority of the West Bank from Israel also divided some communities in Jerusalem, affecting residents’ access to places of worship, employment, agricultural lands, schools, and hospitals as well as the conduct of commerce, journalism, and humanitarian and NGO activities. For example, restrictions on access in Jerusalem had negative effects, including delays at checkpoints lasting up to two hours, on Palestinian patients and medical staff trying to reach the six Palestinian hospitals in East Jerusalem that offered specialized care. According to HaMoked, the IDF denied 73 percent of farmer permits in 2020, compared with 63 percent in 2019. Only 1 percent of these permits were denied for security reasons, according to the IDF. Most permits were denied due to difficulties navigating the military bureaucracy and failure to meet the ever-more restrictive criteria, according to HaMoked. Authorities sometimes restricted internal movement in Palestinian neighborhoods of Jerusalem and Jerusalem’s Old City and periodically blocked entrances to the East Jerusalem neighborhoods of Issawiya, Silwan, and Jabal Mukabber. The government stated that the barrier was needed for security reasons and that restrictions on movement in Jerusalem were temporary and implemented only when necessary for investigative operations, public safety, or public order, and when there was no viable alternative.
On May 12, during the period of civil unrest, Minister of Defense Benny Gantz declared a temporary state of emergency in Lod due to the serious harm to public safety caused by interethnic clashes, transferring control over the city to police. On the same day, police announced a night curfew in Lod. Police also prohibited access to the city during evening hours due to calls for Jews and Arabs from outside of the city to participate in the riots. Both the curfew and the ban were not fully enforced. On May 13, ACRI asserted the civil state of emergency and the curfew were unlawful and demanded their cessation. ACRI stated the law allowing such declarations does not include incidents of civil unrest. The civil state of emergency and curfew lasted until May 20.
In July and August, several municipalities blocked access to their beaches or parks for nonresidents who were not vaccinated for COVID-19. For example, on August 4, the Acre City Council decided to permit access to its beaches only to those with a “green pass” indicating an individual is vaccinated or recovered. The Acre mayor stated that day that buses arriving from West Bank Palestinian cities posed a public health problem due to low rates of vaccination in those cities. According to Adalah, the Acre City Council did not have the authority to take such measures and that the measures were intended to prevent Palestinian access to Acre’s beaches under the guise of protecting public health. On September 12, in response to a letter from Adalah, the attorney general sent a letter to the Acre municipality stating there was no legal basis for the municipality’s actions.
Foreign Travel: Citizens generally were free to travel abroad, provided they had no outstanding military obligations and no administrative restrictions. The government may bar citizens from leaving the country based on security considerations, unpaid debts, or unresolved divorce proceedings. Authorities do not permit any citizen to travel to any state officially at war with Israel without government permission. This restriction includes travel to Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, and Yemen.
The government enacted a series of limitations and restrictions on foreign travel due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Beginning on January 25, the government did not allow inbound or outbound foreign travel at its airports, and on January 28, it closed its land borders. Beginning in February, Israeli citizens were allowed to return to Israel with the approval of an exceptions committee from a limited number of destinations under an increasing quota of up to 3,000 individuals per day. On February 22, the government opened its land border with Jordan for Israelis having approval from an exception committee. Beginning on March 7, the approval of an exceptions committee was no longer necessary for Israeli citizens to return to the country. On March 16, the government canceled limitations on flight destinations. On March 17, the Supreme Court ruled the quota system violated the Basic Law granting citizens the right to enter the country. The court ordered the regulation not be renewed past its expiration date on March 20 and determined the limitation would only be based on effective capacity. During the reminder of the year, the government allowed the unlimited entry of citizens and a limited category of visitors. Beginning on November 28, citizens could not travel to an expanding list of countries as a part of the government’s effort to curb the spread of the Omicron variant of COVID-19. The list remained in effect at year’s end.
The government requires all citizens to have a special permit to enter “Area A” in the West Bank (the area, according to the Interim Agreement, in which the PA exercises civil and security responsibility). The government allowed Arab/Palestinian citizens of Israel access to Area A without permits, however. The government continued selective revocations of residency permits of some Palestinian residents of Jerusalem. This meant those residents could no longer return to reside in Jerusalem. Reasons for revocation included holding residency or citizenship of another country; living in another country, the West Bank, or Gaza for more than seven years; or, most commonly, being unable to prove a “center of life” (interpreted as full-time residency) in Jerusalem as adjudicated by the Ministry of Interior. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs reported that as of October 22, the government had revoked 22 residency permits in Jerusalem for individuals who had stayed outside of the country for more than seven years or acquired citizenship or permanent residence status in another country. Some Palestinians who were born in Jerusalem but studied abroad reported losing their Jerusalem residency status. The government, however, denied revoking residency status of anyone who left for the sole purpose of studying abroad. The government added that the residency of individuals who maintained an “affinity to Israel” would not be revoked and that former residents who wished to return to Israel could receive renewed residency status under certain conditions.
Palestinians possessing residency permits issued by the Israeli government, but not PA or Jordanian identity documents, needed special travel documents to leave the country.
Citizenship: The law allows administrative courts to approve the minister of interior’s request for revocation of citizenship of a person on grounds of “breach of trust to the State of Israel” or following a conviction for an act of terror. The law grants the minister the authority to revoke permanent residency based on similar grounds. Legal appeals to the Supreme Court by Adalah and ACRI against the revocation of the citizenships of two individuals convicted for an act of terror, which also questioned the constitutionality of the law itself, were pending as of the year’s end. On June 29, the interior minister signed the revocation of one citizenship and one permanent residence permit; the revocations were pending approval by the attorney general and the administrative court.
f. Protection of Refugees
The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees and asylum seekers as well as to other persons of concern, except as noted below. The government did not allow UNHCR regular access to monitor the detention facility at Ben Gurion Airport.
Access to Asylum: The law provides for granting asylum or refugee status. The government has established a system for providing protection to refugees, but it has rarely granted a refugee status, and the government often kept asylum applications pending for years. NGOs alleged that the government did this purposely. According to the government, as of November, PIBA rejected a total of 3,260 asylum applications and accepted a total of seven. Most asylum seekers received a “conditional release visa” that requires frequent renewal and is only available in two locations in the country. The government provided these individuals with a limited form of group protection regarding freedom of movement, protection against refoulement, and limited access to the labor market. Advocacy groups asserted that most government policies were geared toward deterring the arrival of future asylum seekers by pressuring those already in the country to depart, either by restricting their access to social and medical services or by not examining their asylum requests.
As of September 30, there were 31,012 adult irregular migrants and asylum seekers in the country, of whom 28,175 were from Eritrea or Sudan, according to PIBA. According to the Aid Organization for Refugees and Asylum Seekers in Israel, and UNHCR estimates, 8,000 to 10,000 children of asylum seekers resided in the country.
Irregular migrants subject to deportation, including those claiming but unable to prove citizenship in countries included in Israel’s nonrefoulement policy, were subjected to indefinite detention if they refused to depart after receiving a deportation order. According to the most recent HRM estimate, at the end of 2020, there were several dozen migrants with undetermined or disputed citizenship in detention, compared with 165 in 2018 and 5,000 in 2015.
According to HRM and Haaretz, as of June 21, PIBA had examined only 103 asylum requests of Eritrean citizens, of which it had decided 19 requests and approved only one that involved four individuals. This occurred despite a 2019 government announcement that it would reexamine all requests from Eritrean asylum seekers, including 3,000 that were previously denied. Since the 2019 announcement, PIBA examined 706 cases and recognized 15 individuals as refugees. On April 25, the Supreme Court ruled on petitions from 2017 demanding the examination of asylum claims of Sudanese citizens from Darfur, Nuba Mountains, and Blue Nile. The court gave the government until December 30 to either set a policy for deciding on asylum applications, process asylum requests on an individual basis, grant humanitarian status to asylum seekers, or develop a solution that would allow for the departure of the asylum seekers. If the government failed to do so, the court ordered the issuance of temporary residency status to the 2,445 asylum seekers who submitted their requests prior to June 2017, until a decision was taken regarding their application. On December 26, PIBA published a list of 2,426 individuals to which it would grant temporary residency for six months, to be renewed on an individual basis. This would grant asylum seekers the right to social benefits, but the temporary status could be revoked if an asylum request were denied. In November PIBA stated Ethiopians from the Tigray region who applied for asylum due to the civil war, including those whose asylum requests were rejected in the past, would receive a temporary stay permit like that held by Eritreans and Sudanese.
Palestinian residents of the West Bank who claimed to be in a life-threatening situation due to their sexual orientation or for other reasons, such as domestic violence, did not have access to the asylum system due to Israel’s claim that the 1951 Refugee Convention does not apply to Palestinians because they received assistance from UNRWA. Many Palestinians in life-threatening situations therefore resided in Israel without legal status. NGOs stated this situation left persons who claimed they could not return to the West Bank due to fear of persecution vulnerable to human trafficking, violence, and exploitation. Some lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) Palestinians were able to obtain from the coordinator of government activities in the territories (COGAT) a temporary permit allowing them to stay in Israel without authorization to work or to access social services. According to UNHCR, prior to the issuance of permits, COGAT requested proof of efforts to resettle in a third country.
On July 22, in response to a petition to the Supreme Court demanding the right to work and access to the health-care system for Palestinians with the appropriate permits in Israel, the government stated it viewed a fundamental difference between Palestinians threatened due to cooperation with Israel and Palestinians who fled due to their sexual orientation or domestic violence. The government committed to begin issuing work permits for the first group, but not for members of the second group, who could only apply for a permit in demanded fields such as construction and industry, mirroring requirements for Palestinian workers from the West Bank. On July 26, the Supreme Court ruled on the petition, validating the government’s position but also demanding that the government update the court regarding the possibility of accepting requests for work permits from the second group, separate from an employer. The case was continued at the year’s end.
The government did not accept initial asylum claims at airports. UNHCR did not have access to the detention facility at Ben Gurion Airport. In August the minister of interior refused entry to group of Afghan refugee women rescued by the Israeli aid organization IsraAID, despite the organization’s commitment to relocate the group to Canada within a month. The group was eventually admitted to and provided asylum in Switzerland, with the assistance and advocacy of IsraAID.
Safe Country of Origin/Transit: According to Ministry of Interior data obtained by HRM, no person who entered Israel through Ben Gurion Airport applied for asylum during the year. PIBA applied a fast-track procedure to reject asylum applications from applicants from Georgia, Ukraine, and Russia, which the Ministry of the Interior determined were “safe” countries, and whose citizens sought work in Israel until their asylum applications were examined. According to HRM, the fast-track procedure prevented the examination of cases in which there was a legitimate claim for asylum.
Refoulement: The government provided some protection against expulsion or return of refugees to countries where their lives or freedom could be threatened and stated its commitment to the principle of nonrefoulement.
The government offered incentives to irregular migrants to depart the country for Uganda, including a paid ticket and a stipend. The government claimed Uganda provided for full rights under agreements with Israel, but NGOs and UNHCR confirmed that migrants who arrived at the destination did not receive residency or employment rights. From January 1 to September 30, a total of 663 irregular migrants departed the country under pressure, compared with 2,024 in 2019. NGOs claimed many of those who departed to other countries faced abuses at their destination and that this transfer could amount to refoulement.
Abuse of Migrants and Refugees: Communities with large concentrations of African migrants were occasionally targets of violence. Additionally, government policies on the legality of work forced many refugees to work in “unofficial” positions, making them more susceptible to poor treatment and questionable work practices by their employers. PIBA, unlike police or the IPS, did not have an external body to which migrants could file complaints if subjected to violence, according to HRM.
On November 9, Yigal Ben Ami, a PIBA employee responsible for irregular migrants’ visa renewal applications, was arrested under the suspicion that he offered women renewal of their stay permits in exchange for sex, according to Haaretz. At year’s end, his case was with the prosecution, pending an indictment.
Freedom of Movement: In force until December 12, the citizenship law allowed the government to detain asylum seekers from countries to which government policy prohibits deportation upon entry for a period of three months. No such arrivals were recorded during the year, however. With the expiration of the law, the government may only detain asylum seekers for two months. The government may detain without trial and for an indefinite period, irregular migrants who were “implicated in criminal proceedings” (see section 1.d.).
Authorities prohibited asylum seekers released from detention after arrival in the country from residing in Eilat, Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Petah Tikva, Netanya, Ashdod, and Bnei Brak – cities that already had a high concentration of asylum seekers. While a September 30 Supreme Court ruling upheld these prohibitions, the court instructed the government to reconsider the policy as well as the criteria for adjudicating requests to remove such restrictions. The court’s verdict became moot once the restrictions expired.
Employment: While conditional release visas for Eritrean and Sudanese refugees do not include a work permit, making their employment an offense, the government continued its practice of not enforcing this offense against employers following a 2011 commitment to the Supreme Court. According to UNHCR, asylum seekers from countries not listed under Israel’s nonrefoulement policy were restricted from working for three to six months after submitting their requests if they did not have a visa before applying. Asylum seekers are prohibited from working on government contracts, including local government contracts for cleaning and maintenance, which often employed irregular migrants.
According to the Aid Organization for Refugees and Asylum Seekers in Israel, 48 percent of asylum seekers in Israel were unemployed in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic and were ineligible for unemployment insurance or other social services.
Up to December 12, the law barred migrants from sending remittances abroad, limited the amount they may take with them when they leave to minimum-wage earnings for the number of months they resided in the country, and defined taking additional money outside the country as a money-laundering crime.
Access to Basic Services: Legally recognized refugees received social services, including access to the national health-care system, but the government for the most part did not provide asylum seekers with public social benefits. Asylum seekers were able to enroll in a health-insurance program only through their employers, leaving many of them uninsured during the COVID-19 pandemic, when unemployment peaked among asylum seekers.
Without insurance through employers, or when employers did not arrange a private insurance policy for them as required by law, asylum seekers had access only to emergency care. The Ministry of Health offered medical insurance for minor children of asylum seekers for 120 shekels ($37) per month, but children of undocumented migrants were excluded from this program. Despite a Supreme Court injunction from November 2020, the Ministry of Health continued to exclude some children of undocumented migrants from national health-insurance policy coverage. The government sponsored a mobile clinic and mother and infant health-care stations in south Tel Aviv that were accessible to migrants and asylum seekers. Hospitals provided emergency care to migrants and treated them for COVID-19 but often denied follow-up treatment to those who failed to pay, according to the PHRI. Mental-health services for the asylum seeker and refugee population remained limited to one clinic treating 250 patients, while the need for such services increased substantially because of COVID-19, leading to lengthy waitlists, according to PHRI. Asylum seekers who were recognized as victims of trafficking were eligible for rehabilitation and care. The same eligibilities did not apply for victims of torture.
The law provides for mandatory education for any child from age three regardless of citizenship status. According to civil society organizations, several municipalities illegally segregated children of asylum seekers and other children in schools and kindergartens during the COVID-19 pandemic. On August 3, civil society organizations submitted a petition to the Tel Aviv Administrative Court on behalf of 325 children of asylum seekers and their parents as well as 100 parents of Israeli citizens, demanding a halt to segregation in the city’s education system. According to ACRI, there are four primary schools and some 60 kindergartens educating only children of asylum seekers. On September 5, the parties submitted a negotiated agreement to the court, according to which 200 of the students would be placed in schools outside of their area of residence. The petition was pending at the year’s end.
Durable Solutions: There is no procedure for recognized refugees to naturalize. According to the Tel Aviv University Refugee Rights Clinic, only under exceptional humanitarian circumstances may a recognized refugee receive permanent residency.
Temporary Protection: The government provided temporary protection to individuals whom it did not recognize as refugees or who may not qualify as refugees, primarily Eritrean and Sudanese irregular migrants as described above.
Despite being eligible for Israeli citizenship since 1981, an estimated 23,600 Druze living in territory captured from Syria in 1967 largely refused to accept it, and their status as Syrian citizens was unclear. They held Israeli “laissez passer” travel documents, which listed their nationality as “undefined.”
The government launched an investigation into reports that 2,625 Bedouins had their citizenship revoked when requesting services at the Ministry of Interior, beginning in 2017. The investigation found that in all except 500 cases, the revocations were flawed and the individuals had originally been registered correctly as citizens. The government subsequently reinstated the citizenship of those individuals. According to the government, of the 500 Bedouins who should not have been registered as citizens because they were children of permanent residents, approximately 400 were naturalized, 90 had yet to visit PIBA’s offices to begin the process, and 10 cases were still pending.
There were reports of some stateless third-generation members of the Hebrew Israelites community whom the government judged ineligible for Israeli citizenship.
United Arab Emirates
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties
The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for members of the press and other media, but the law prohibits criticism of national rulers and speech that may create or encourage social unrest. The government regularly restricted freedom of speech and the press, and human rights organizations reported that the government continues to detain political activists and human rights defenders. Media outlets conformed to unpublished government guidelines. Editors and journalists were aware of government “red lines” for acceptable media content, stipulated in federal libel and slander laws. On other socially sensitive topics, they commonly practiced self-censorship. In January the government introduced the National Policy for the Quality of Digital Life aimed at encouraging positive digital citizenship by promoting “tolerance, coexistence, and pluralism” in the curriculum of government schools.
Freedom of Expression: After the onset of widespread regional popular uprisings in 2011, authorities severely restricted freedom of expression by prohibiting any public criticism of the government and individual ministers. The government continued to make arrests or impose other restrictions for speech related to and in support of Islamist political activities, calls for democratic reforms, criticism of or perceived insults against the government and government institutions, and, in rarer cases, criticism of individuals. Both verbal and written insults online are a prosecutable offense.
In other cases authorities brought individuals to trial for posting material on social media platforms that was considered a violation of privacy or personally insulting to acquaintances, colleagues, employers, or religions.
Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Media, Including Online Media: International NGOs categorized the press, both in print and online, as not free. Except for regional media outlets located in Dubai and Abu Dhabi’s free-trade zones, the government owned and controlled most newspapers, television stations, and radio stations. Journalists reported the government maintained unpublished guidelines for acceptable media content. Regulations for electronic media, including rules for publishing and selling advertising, print, video, and audio material, require those benefitting monetarily from social media advertising to purchase a license from the National Media Council (NMC).
Censorship or Content Restrictions: By law the NMC, whose chair the president appoints, licenses, and censors all publications, including private association publications. Domestic and foreign publications were censored to remove any criticism of the government, ruling families, or friendly governments. Online content was often removed without transparency or judicial oversight. Domain hosts or administrators are liable if their websites are used to “prompt riot, hatred, racism, sectarianism, or damage the national unity or social peace or prejudice the public order and public morals.” Censorship also extends to statements that “threaten social stability” and materials considered pornographic or excessively violent. The government in December introduced a new “21+” rating for films with mature content, allowing “international versions” of films to be screened in the country. Prior to the announcement of the new rating system, authorities reportedly banned or edited films for “mature” content, which it considered to include representations of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) individuals.
Government and private institutions must obtain a license before publishing or broadcasting media or advertising content, or face penalties. This requirement applies to any media or advertising activity and to any person or entity that issues any type of publication, including clubs, associations, diplomatic missions, foreign centers, and movie theaters.
Government officials allegedly warned journalists who published or broadcast material deemed politically or culturally sensitive. Editors and journalists commonly practiced self-censorship due to fear of government retribution, particularly since most journalists were foreign nationals and could be deported. Authorities did not allow importation or publication of some books they viewed as critical of the government, Islam, and local culture, as well as books that supported the Muslim Brotherhood or its ideology.
Internet and television providers continued to block Qatari-funded al-Jazeera’s website and most Qatari broadcasting channels at the direction of government authorities.
Libel/Slander Laws: The government used libel and slander laws to suppress criticism of its leaders and institutions. The law criminalizes acts that defame others online or through information technology, including communication applications such as WhatsApp; punishment is either imprisonment or a fine. In July a Ras al-Khaimah court ordered a woman to pay a former Federal National Council member AED 20,000 ($5,450) as compensation after she allegedly insulted him and damaged his reputation on social media.
Those convicted of libel face up to two years in prison. The maximum penalty for libel against the family of a public official is three years in prison.
The law also criminalizes any form of expression the government interprets as blasphemous or offensive toward “divine recognized religions,” inciting religious hatred or insulting religious convictions.
National Security: Authorities often cited the need to protect national security as the basis for laws that prohibit and punish criticism of the government or expression of dissenting political views. For example, the country’s cybercrime laws include broad limitations on using electronic means to promote disorder or “damage national unity.” Human rights groups criticized these laws for excessively restricting freedom of expression.
The constitution provides for the freedoms of assembly and association, but the government did not always respect these rights.
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
The law generally provided for freedom of internal movement, emigration, and repatriation. In September the Abu Dhabi Emergency, Crisis, and Disaster Committee for the COVID-19 pandemic ended internal movement restrictions following a sharp drop in COVID-19 cases.
While the government generally respected the right to freedom of internal movement, emigration, and repatriation, it imposed certain legal restrictions on foreign travel. The lack of passports or other identity documents restricted the movement of stateless persons, both within the country and internationally.
Foreign Travel: Authorities generally did not permit citizens and residents involved in legal disputes under adjudication and noncitizens under investigation to travel abroad. In addition, authorities sometimes arrested individuals with outstanding debts or legal cases while in transit through an international airport. Abu Dhabi and Dubai maintain a system that allows individuals to verify if they are subject to a travel ban related to unsettled debts or pending legal action. In some cases travelers can settle debts directly at the airport and have their travel ban lifted. Debtors also may challenge travel bans in court.
Emirate-level prosecutors have the discretion to seize the passports of foreign citizens and restrict foreign travel during criminal or civil investigations. These measures posed particular problems for noncitizen debtors who, in addition to being unable to leave the country, were usually unable to find work without a passport and valid residence permit, making it impossible to repay their debts or maintain legal residency. In some cases family, friends, local religious organizations, or other concerned individuals helped pay the debt and enabled the indebted foreign national to depart the country. In February Dubai authorities released a number of prisoners after a group of charities and individual donors paid their debts. In September a charity in Sharjah paid the debts of 805 persons including an unspecified number of inmates.
Citizens targeted for reasons of state security, including former political prisoners, encountered difficulties renewing official documents, resulting in implicit travel bans.
Custom dictates that a husband may prevent his wife, minor children, or adult unmarried daughters from leaving the country by taking custody of their passports.
Citizenship: The government may revoke naturalized citizens’ passports and citizenship status for criminal or “politically provocative” actions.
f. Protection of Refugees
The government allowed the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations to provide protection and assistance to refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern.
UNHCR lacked formal legal status in the country separate from the UN Development Program. The government nevertheless worked with UNHCR on a case-by-case basis to address refugee issues. The government informally granted refugee status or asylum to aliens seeking protection and allowed some asylum seekers to remain in the country temporarily on an individual basis. This nonpermanent status often presented administrative, financial, and social hardships, including the need frequently to renew visas and the inability to access basic services such as health care and education.
Access to Asylum: The law does not provide for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has not established a transparent, codified system for providing protection to refugees. While the government extended informal protection from return to refugees in some cases, any persons lacking legal residency status were technically subject to local laws on illegal immigrants, and authorities could detain them. In some cases authorities confined individuals seeking protection at an airport to a specific section of the airport while they awaited resettlement in another country. Since August the government has supported the evacuation from Afghanistan of more than 10,000 individuals, including American citizens, third-country nationals, and at-risk Afghans. As of December the non-U.S. citizen individuals were being evaluated for resettlement or relocation to other countries.
Employment: Access to employment was based on an individual’s status as a legal resident, and persons with a claim to refugee status but who lacked legal residency status, including those with either short-term visitor visas or expired visas, were generally not eligible for employment.
Access to Basic Services: Access to education and other public services, including health care, is based on an individual’s status as a legal resident. As a result, some families, particularly from Iraq and Syria, reportedly did not have access to health care or schools. The government provided or allowed access to some services on a case-by-case basis, often after the intervention of UNHCR representatives. Some hospitals were willing to see patients without the mandatory insurance but required full payment up front.
Informal estimates suggested 20,000 to 100,000 Bidoon, or persons without citizenship, resided in the country. The government estimated the population at 10,000. Most Bidoon lacked citizenship because they did not belong to one of the tribes granted citizenship when the country was established. Others entered the country legally or illegally in search of employment. Because children derive citizenship generally from the father, Bidoon children born within the country’s territory remained stateless. Without passports or other forms of identification, Bidoon find their movement restricted, both within the country and internationally. In previous years the government purchased a number of passports from Comoros and issued them to Bidoon. The documents conferred economic Comorian citizenship on the recipients and legalized their status in the country but did not extend citizenship or the right to residency in Comoros. In 2018 the Comoros government reportedly halted issuance of new passports under its economic citizenship program, but there were reports of Bidoon individuals receiving Comoros passports issued after 2018.
The committee that reviews mothers’ citizenship applications for their children also reviews citizenship applications from Bidoon who could satisfy certain legal conditions to be eligible for naturalization and subsequently could gain access to education, health care, and other public services. There were few reports of stateless persons receiving Emirati citizenship.
West Bank and Gaza
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties
The PA basic law generally provides for freedom of expression but does not specifically provide for freedom of expression for members of the press and other media. The PA enforced legislation that NGOs claimed restricted press and media freedom in the West Bank, including through PASF harassment, intimidation, and arrest. Notably, Palestinian activists reported narrowing space for political discussion, with arrests of Fatah party opponents, critics of the PA, and peaceful protesters in the West Bank.
In Gaza, Hamas severely restricted freedom of expression, including for members of the press and other media, through arrests and interrogations of journalists as well as harassment and limitations on access and movement for some journalists. These restrictions led many journalists and activists to self-censor.
Israeli civil and military law provide only limited protections for freedom of expression, including for members of the press and other media, for Palestinian residents of the West Bank. NGOs and Palestinian journalists alleged that Israeli authorities restricted press coverage and placed limits on certain forms of expression. These included restricting Palestinian journalists’ movement as well as using violence, arrests, closure of media outlets, and intimidation, according to media reports and the Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms. The Israeli government stated it allowed journalists maximum freedom to work and stated that it investigated any allegations of mistreatment of journalists.
Freedom of Expression: Although no PA law prohibits criticism of the government, media reports indicated PA authorities arrested West Bank Palestinian journalists, social media activists, and protesters who criticized the PA or covered events that criticized the PA. The law restricts the publication of material that endangers the “integrity of the Palestinian state.” The PA arrested West Bank journalists and blocked websites associated with political rivals, including sites affiliated with political parties and opposition groups critical of the Fatah-controlled PA. The Palestinian NGO Lawyers for Justice reported at least 40 cases were brought against political opponents of the PA since January.
On June 24, officers from the PSO entered the Israeli-controlled H2 area of Hebron, raided the house where Palestinian social media critic Nizar Banat was staying, and severely beat him. He died shortly afterward on the way to the hospital. The Security Forces Justice Commission indicted 14 low-level PASF officers on September 5. The PA failed to hold any higher-level officials responsible for Banat’s killing, although PA leadership would have had to coordinate closely with the IDF to enter the H2 area of Hebron (see section 1.a.). Israeli press reported that PA security forces arrested or summoned for interrogation dozens of political activists who participated in anti-PA protests following Banat’s killing and charged 16 with fomenting sectarian strife and insulting senior Palestinian officials.
In Gaza, Hamas arrested, interrogated, seized property from, and harassed Palestinians who criticized Hamas. Media practitioners accused of criticizing Hamas, including civil society and youth activists, social media advocates, and journalists, faced punitive measures including raids on their facilities and residences, unjust detention, and denial of permission to travel outside Gaza.
Freedom of Expression for Members of the Press and Other Media, Including Online Media: Independent Palestinian media operated under restrictions in the occupied territories. Because of the political rivalry between Fatah and Hamas, journalists faced threats, interrogation, arrest without charge, intimidatory lawsuits, prosecutions, and bans on covering certain events, according to Reporters Without Borders (RWB). Many Palestinian journalists reported that they practiced self-censorship. Several websites regarded by the PA as opposition media have been inaccessible since 2017, RWB reported. Facebook also reportedly blocked several Palestinian media outlets, including Maydan al-Quds on November 21. Palestinian activists and journalists launched a campaign called “Facebook Censors Jerusalem” to raise awareness concerning Meta’s/Facebook’s alleged efforts to censor Palestinian content on its flagship social media platform. Sada Social, a nonprofit NGO focusing on the digital rights of Palestinians, alleged that social media platform’s algorithms removed posts that contained words such as “Hamas” or “martyr” without taking into consideration their contextual meaning.
Hamas permitted broadcasts within Gaza of reporting and interviews featuring PA officials. Hamas allowed, with some restrictions, the operation of non-Hamas-affiliated broadcast media in Gaza. For example, the PA-supported Palestine TV continued to operate in Gaza.
In areas of the West Bank to which Israel controlled access, Palestinian journalists claimed Israeli authorities restricted their freedom of movement and ability to cover stories. The ISF did not recognize Palestinian press credentials or credentials from the International Federation of Journalists. Few Palestinians held Israeli press credentials.
RWB stated that Israeli forces subjected Palestinian journalists to arrest, interrogation, and administrative detention, often without any clear grounds. In recent years, Israeli authorities also reportedly closed several Palestinian media outlets for allegedly inciting violence.
Violence and Harassment: There were numerous reports that the PA harassed, detained (occasionally with violence), prosecuted, and fined journalists in the West Bank during the year based on their reporting.
The NGO Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms (MADA) recorded 69 violations against Palestinian journalists by different Palestinian parties in the West Bank and Gaza in June, including 17 incidents of physical assault and two arrests, 11 confiscations and destruction of journalists’ equipment, 21 incidents of denial of coverage, eight cases of threats, and seven serious defamation cases in addition to several other violations. During a protest in Ramallah in June, MADA reported that freelance journalist Saja al-Alami, who was trying to cover the demonstration, alleged that plainclothes PA security forces attempted to assault her. Journalists reported Israeli security forces forcibly prevented them from covering a press conference on June 6 in front of the Israeli police station on Salah el-Din Street regarding the arrest of activist Mona al-Kurd. When al-Kurd was released, Israeli police allegedly used tear gas and sound bombs to obstruct coverage of the event, hitting al-Jazeera reporter Najwan Semari with shrapnel in her left foot. She was treated for the injuries at a local hospital.
In early May, press reports indicated the PASF had arrested journalist Hassan al-Najjar in mid-April for a couple of weeks after he released the recording of a telephone call between him and President Abbas. During the telephone call, al-Najjar had complained about being fired from the official Palestine TV by senior PA official and general supervisor of the Palestinian Broadcasting Corporation, Ahmad Assaf, for criticizing him.
On June 26, PA security forces reportedly hit Middle East Eye reporter Shatha Hammad in the face with a tear gas canister while she and several other journalists were covering a march in Ramallah city center following Banat’s killing.
The PA occasionally obstructed the West Bank activities of media organizations with Hamas sympathies and limited media coverage critical of the PA. For example in May 2020, PA police at a checkpoint stopped, assaulted, and arrested Anas Hawari, a journalist for the Hamas-affiliated Quds News Network, according to media reports and rights groups, including the Committee to Protect Journalists. Hawari’s lawyer said police knocked out one of Hawari’s teeth during the incident and confiscated his cell phone. Police later released Hawari on bail after charging him with insulting an official, resisting arrest, and violating COVID-19 lockdown measures. The case continued at year’s end. Journalists from al-Araby al-Jadeed also complained of harassment by the PASF, noting that they had been unable to obtain a media license from the PA for the previous five years.
In the aftermath of Nizar Banat’s killing, journalists reported that security personnel in civilian clothes harassed journalists and demonstrators while security and police officers in uniform refused to provide protection to members of the press who faced threats.
On November 4, MADA reported that Palestinian security services stormed the house of freelance journalist Naseem Maalla after midnight south of Nablus, confiscated his mobile telephone, and took him to PSO headquarters in Junaid Prison. Maalla was subject to several interrogations and reportedly tortured. He was accused of possessing a weapon, then of collecting and receiving money from illegal entities (“Hamas”). He was released on November 25.
The PA also had an inconsistent record of protecting Israeli and international journalists in the West Bank from harassment by Palestinian civilians or PA personnel.
On June 26, MADA reported that Palestinian security forces beat journalist Nasser Hamayel, a producer for ABC News. PA security arrested Hamayel while covering protests in Ramallah in support of Nizar Banat. Security forces transferred Hamayel to the General Investigation Center in al-Bireh, where he was detained for several hours and his mobile phone was confiscated. He was accompanied by a cameraman who was assaulted and prevented from filming.
On June 26 and 27, MADA reported that Palestinian security personnel and security forces in civilian clothes prevented an al-Jazeera crew from approaching Ramallah city center to broadcast live protests against the killing of Nizar Banat. al-Jazeera’s reporter, Jihan Awad, reported that she called police for protection and to enable them to pass but police did not help. Similar incidents were reported by al-Hurra TV channel journalists who were conducting interviews in downtown Ramallah while covering the events.
On June 30, according to MADA, a Facebook page called The Sons of Fatah Movement – Rapid Response published a post threatening seven Palestinian journalists who submitted a request to the United Nations for protection after they were subjected to a series of attacks by Palestinian security forces while documenting demonstrations in Ramallah. The journalists claimed police refused to protect them. The Facebook post criticized the journalists for seeking protection from the PA but not acting similarly against the “Israeli occupation” and alleged the journalists were linked to certain political parties.
In Gaza, Hamas at times arrested, harassed, and pressured, sometimes violently, journalists critical of its policies. Hamas reportedly summoned, detained, and questioned Palestinian journalists to intimidate them. Hamas also constrained journalists’ freedom of internal movement in Gaza during the year, attempting to ban access to some official buildings.
On January 11, MADA reported Hamas police prevented reporters and cameramen from Ma’an TV and al-Ghad al-Arabi TV from covering a sit-in organized by the owners of local markets demanding an end to the year-long COVID-19 lockdown. Hamas officers claimed filming was prohibited in the area and that the sit-in was organized without authorization from the de facto Ministry of Interior.
On April 24, MADA reported that Hamas-affiliated armed security forces in Gaza shoved journalist Mou’in al-Dabba and tore his shirt as he was covering an evening march in support of Jerusalem during which protestors burned tires. The armed forces apologized to al-Dabba after recognizing him and asked him not to publicize the assault. He reported on the incident anyway and was contacted by an unknown person and instructed to delete the post and file a formal complaint.
On May 17, MADA reported that the de facto authorities’ prosecutor’s office in Gaza prevented journalist Mohammad Awad, reporter of the Gaza-based Dunia al-Watan as well as regional al-Arabiya and al-Hadath TV from covering events in Gaza for the latter two regional outlets. Awad stated that he received a telephone call at midnight from a person who introduced himself as one of the de facto authority’s prosecutor’s officers. The person informed Awad that “there are instructions from the leadership” to prevent Awad from carrying out his work. Awad filed a complaint with the Government Media Office, the de facto authorities’ information office, which in turn referred him to the internal security office. The internal security office confirmed that the telephone call came from an official authority. The next day, an announcement against al-Arabiya and al-Hadath TV was distributed, describing them as “channels of sedition” and warning the journalists who work for them.
On July 3, MADA reported that Hamas security personnel assaulted journalist Muhammad al-Louh, a correspondent for al-Shabab Radio in Gaza, while he was covering high school examinations in Deir al-Balah. Al-Louh was wearing a distinctive press uniform with the name of the radio station while conducting interviews with high school students in al-Bureij refugee camp. He was banned by security personnel from reporting in a forbidden area. Al-Louh was then assaulted, slapped, and kicked for not responding to questions, and he sustained bruises on his hands and right leg.
Throughout the year, there were reports of Israeli actions that prevented journalists who were Palestinian from the West Bank and Gaza or Arab/Palestinian citizens of Israel from covering news stories in the occupied territories. These actions included alleged harassment and acts of violence against journalists by Israeli soldiers. Palestinian journalists also claimed that Israeli security forces detained Palestinian journalists and forced them to delete images and videos under threat of violence, arrest, or administrative detention. Israeli authorities defended these detentions on security grounds.
Palestinian journalists who were able to obtain permits to enter Israel as well as Jerusalem-based Arab/Palestinian journalists reported incidents of harassment, racism, and occasional violence when they sought to cover news in Jerusalem, especially in the Old City and its vicinity. In November the Journalist Support Committee, a nonprofit journalist advocacy organization, stated Israeli security forces had committed more than 678 acts of violence against Palestinian journalists since the beginning of the year, including detention and office closures. In June then Israeli public security minister Amir Ohana extended for six months the closure order against Palestine TV’s East Jerusalem office, and the office remained closed at the end of the year. In 2019 the public security minister at the time first ordered the closure when Israeli police raided the office according to Palestinian press.
RWB reported at least 21 Palestinian journalists were banned by Israel from traveling for unspecified reasons. When RWB inquired regarding the reasons for barring Palestinian journalist Majdooleen Hasoona of Turkish outlet TRT World from traveling from the West Bank to Turkey, Israeli authorities cited “security reasons” according to Palestinian press.
There were reports of Israeli forces detaining journalists in the West Bank. On January 28, Israeli forces reportedly allowed three cameramen – Suleiman Abu Srour from WAFA, Omar Abu Awad from Palestine TV, and Adel Nimah for Reuters – to cover Israeli demolitions in the Bedouin community of al-Wadi al-Ahmar near the Fayasil village of Jericho, but detained them for several hours afterwards, according to Palestinian media.
The Committee to Protect Journalists reported that 12 Israeli soldiers raided the Ramallah home of Alaa al-Rimawi, a reporter for the Qatari broadcaster al-Jazeera Mubasher and director of the local J-Media Network news agency (see above), on April 21 and arrested him. He was never charged with a crime and conducted a hunger strike for 16 days of his detention. While he had been issued a three-month administrative detention order, he was reportedly released in early June.
Israeli police officers detained, used violence against, and confiscated equipment of journalists during demonstrations in Jerusalem. During a protest at Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount on May 4, Israeli police reportedly beat with a baton Ahmad Gharabli, a Palestinian journalist working for Agence France-Presse (AFP), according to press reports.
On June 5, MADA reported that Israeli forces assaulted several female Palestinian journalists and prevented them from covering disputes between Palestinian families and Israeli settlers in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem. Israeli forces allegedly beat the crew of al-Jazeera regional television, who held Israeli press cards, damaged their camera, and detained for several hours correspondent Guevara al-Budairi, banning her from Sheikh Jarrah for 15 days. They also reportedly assaulted and expelled Yasmine Asaad, a correspondent for regional al-Sharq TV. Israeli forces also forced Ma’an News Network correspondent Maysa Abu Ghazaleh to put down her camera and stop taking pictures and physically forced Palestine TV reporter Christine Rinawi and freelance journalist Maram al-Bukhari away from the area.
On August 27, the Human Rights Defenders Fund (HRDF) reported that Israeli security forces arrested seven Palestinian journalists covering a peaceful demonstration against the establishment of new outposts and settler violence in the South Hebron Hills. According to the HRDF, the journalists were arrested, and their equipment was confiscated although they clearly identified themselves as journalists to the soldiers. Two of the journalists claimed they were attacked and beaten by the soldiers during the arrest. According to the soldiers, the journalists entered a closed military area illegally. The journalists were released later that day, issued a summons for an additional interrogation on August 29, after which their equipment was returned. They subsequently submitted a complaint to the Military Police. It was unclear if any action had been taken on the complaint by year’s end.
The Associated Press accused Israeli police of beating photographer Mahmoud Illean on December 17 while he was covering a protest in Sheikh Jarrah. Illean was admitted to a hospital for head injuries. Israeli police did not provide an explanation for the incident, stating that relevant authorities would investigate. There was no update at years end.
In the West Bank, the PA’s Palestinian News and Information Agency (WAFA) reported 384 Israeli violations against journalists during the year, including beatings, detentions, and use of tear gas and live and metal nonlethal ammunition.
On February 3, according to MADA, the mayor of Beit Sahour municipality harassed and threatened the director general of Radio Bethlehem 2000, George Canawati, concerning Canawati’s Facebook post alleging corruption in Beit Sahour. The mayor entered the radio station headquarters in Bethlehem looking for Canawati, who was not there at the time, complaining Canawati was targeting him. Canawati filed a complaint with the public prosecutor, who determined Canawati’s post did not in any way implicate the mayor.
On January 1, MADA reported that Israeli forces prevented a group of journalists representing various local, regional, and international agencies from covering a march organized by families in the Ramallah area, firing tear gas at them and forcing them away.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: The PA prohibits calls for violence, displays of arms, and racist slogans in PA-funded and -controlled official media. There were no confirmed reports of any legal action against, or prosecution of, any person publishing items counter to these PA rules. Media throughout the West Bank and Gaza reported practicing self-censorship. There were reports of PA authorities seeking to erase images or footage from journalists’ cameras or cell phones.
In the West Bank, MADA reported that on April 1 the Arab American University Radio (AAUP) dismissed journalist Ahmed Zayed following his telephone interview with Fatah PLC candidate Abu al-Tayyib Jaradat, who insulted the PA government and Fatah party regarding a disagreement on voters’ lists. The interview aroused discontent in the university and Fatah movement, leading the university to withdraw the interview and terminate the journalist’s contract.
According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, on July 27, Palestinian police officers raided and closed the office of J-Media in al-Bireh in the West Bank and banned its 17 employees from entering the office or removing any personal belongings or journalistic equipment from it. Alaa al-Rimawi, J-Media’s director who also worked for al-Jazeera, was arrested by the PASF and held for three days in early July following a complaint against him by the Palestinian Ministry of Endowments for delivering a speech without permission at a mosque during the funeral of Palestinian opposition activist Nizar Banat. In July the PA Information Ministry stated that the closure of the J-Media office and several other media institutions was due to their failure to obtain the necessary legal licenses to carry out their work and not for reasons related to restrictions on media freedoms. The office remained closed at year’s end, although J-Media’s website remained active and accessible. The case against J-Media remained open.
On November 7, MADA reported Palestinian security forces detained Abdullah Bahsh, a journalist for the pro-Hamas Quds News Network, and deleted content on his mobile phone while he covered the demolition of a commercial complex by the PA’s Nablus municipal government. Although Bahsh reportedly had permission from authorities to document the demolition, three PSO officers asked him to leave the area after deleting media on his mobile phone and taking a copy of his identification card.
In Gaza civil society organizations reported Hamas censored television programs and written materials, such as newspapers and books.
On April 24, MADA reported the Cybercrime Investigation Department in Gaza summoned AFP journalist Sakher Abu al-Aoun after he published a post on Facebook criticizing a hospital for medical negligence and for treating his son differently than they would if he was the son of a Hamas official. An investigator took al-Aoun’s mobile phone and deleted the post, claiming he had a mandate from the prosecutor, after al-Aoun refused to delete it himself. Al-Aoun was interrogated for two hours and offered the option to either be detained or released on bail. He was ultimately released after the investigator learned al-Aoun’s son had died.
The Israeli government raided and closed Palestinian media sources in the West Bank, primarily based on allegations they incited violence against Israeli civilians or security services. Conviction of acts of incitement under military law is punishable by up to 10 years’ imprisonment. NGOs and observers stated Israeli military regulations were vaguely worded and open to interpretation. The ISF generally cited two laws in its military orders when closing Palestinian radio stations: the 1945 Defense Emergency Regulations and the 2009 Order Concerning Security Provisions. These laws generally define incitement as an attempt to influence public opinion in a manner that could harm public safety or public order. The Palestinian Prisoners’ Center for Studies alleged that Israeli authorities arrested 390 Palestinians during the year for “incitement to violence” on social media.
While the Israeli government retained the authority to censor the printing of publications for security concerns, anecdotal evidence suggested authorities did not actively review the Jerusalem-based al-Quds newspaper or other Jerusalem-based Arabic publications. Editors and journalists from those publications, however, reported they engaged in self-censorship.
Libel/Slander Laws: Israel’s law allows for both civil legal proceedings in the form of damage compensation cases as well as criminal legal proceedings in the form of private complaints. The maximum sentence is up to one year imprisonment. There were accusations of slander or libel against journalists and activists in the West Bank and Gaza.
According to HRDF, Israeli individuals and right-wing NGOs used defamation lawsuits to discourage public criticism of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank. For example in July 2020 the Samaria Regional Council, an Israeli municipal body for settlers, sued former Knesset member and head of the Zulat Institute, Zehava Galon, after she criticized on Twitter their granting of a certificate of honor to two settlers who in 2019 allegedly shot and killed an alleged Palestinian attacker. According to B’Tselem, the settlers purportedly continued to shoot the Palestinian after he no longer posed a threat. In June 2020 an additional libel lawsuit against Galon, B’Tselem, and three individuals who tweeted on the incident was filed by Yehusha Sherman, who shot the attacker. The lawsuits continued at year’s end.
National Security: Human rights NGOs alleged that the PA restricted the activities of journalists on national security grounds.
On November 13, MADA reported that the Palestinian Intelligence Service summoned journalist Salah Abu Hassan, the programs director at Alam Radio in Hebron, and subjected him to interrogation for an hour about his work at the radio. According to MADA, the interrogation officer told Abu Hassan that radio programs could not speak against the government and that he had an obligation to preserve the public interest of the Palestinian society.
Authorities in the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem limited and restricted Palestinian residents’ freedoms of peaceful assembly and association. The Israeli military issued an order in 1967 which requires Palestinians in the West Bank to obtain a permit for any protest involving 10 or more persons; during the year there were no known instances in which Israeli authorities granted permission for such a protest. The Palestinian Basic Law requires PA permission for protests of 50 persons or more.
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
PA law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights, with some exceptions. The PA maintained security coordination with Israel throughout the year. IDF checkpoints and settlements constrained Palestinians’ movement throughout the West Bank, including access to their farmlands, according to NGOs and the PA. This was particularly true during the olive harvest, when Palestinian farmers who coordinated access to their olive groves with Israel’s Civil Administration and the PA sometimes had difficulty accessing their land, according to human rights groups.
Citing security concerns and frequent attempted terrorist attacks, Israel imposed significant restrictions on Palestinian movement in the West Bank and between the West Bank and Jerusalem.
In-Country Movement: In an effort to combat the spread of COVID-19, Hamas occasionally enforced restrictions on internal movement in Gaza. Pressure to conform to Hamas’s interpretation of Islamic norms generally restricted movement by women, who often had to travel in groups when visiting certain public areas such as the beach. There were sporadic reports of security officers requiring men to prove a woman with them in a public space was their spouse.
Israeli authorities often deployed temporary checkpoints that prohibited travel between some or all Palestinian West Bank towns. Palestinians who lived in affected villages stated that “internal closures” continued to have negative economic effects, lowering their employment prospects, wages, days worked per month, and their children’s ability to commute to school. During periods of potential unrest, including on some major Israeli, Jewish, and Muslim holidays, Israeli authorities enacted “comprehensive external closures” that prevented Palestinians from leaving the West Bank and Gaza.
Israel placed restrictions on Palestinian farmers accessing their land in the so-called seam zone west of the barrier and east of the Green Line, according to human rights groups, and there were some reports that soldiers operating the checkpoints at seam-zone access points did not allow farmers to move farming implements and machinery, including trucks for transporting olive harvests, into the area.
The Israeli travel permit system restricted Palestinians’ ability to travel from Gaza to the West Bank. Palestinian higher education contacts reported that permits for Gazans to attend West Bank universities were seldom granted. According to the NGO HaMoked, Israeli authorities required Palestinians from the West Bank who are married to a Palestinian in Gaza and reside in Gaza to sign a “Gaza resettlement form” and permanently forego their right to move back to the West Bank.
Israel has declared access-restricted areas (ARAs) on both the coastal and land borders around Gaza, citing evidence that Hamas exploited these areas at times to conduct attacks or to smuggle weapons and goods into Gaza. The lack of clear information regarding the ARAs created risks for Palestinians in Gaza who lived or worked either on the Mediterranean coast or near the perimeter fence. No official signage exists for the line of demarcation, and official policy changed frequently. Hamas’s use of certain technologies for rockets, drones, other weapons, and surveillance systems led Israel to restrict importation of dual-use equipment into Gaza including Global Positioning System (GPS) devices.
The lack of GPS devices made it more difficult for fishermen to locate and avoid restricted maritime activity areas. In addition, the permitted maritime activity area for Palestinians along the coastal region of Gaza changed between zero and 15 nautical miles multiple times throughout the year, according to Gisha, an Israeli organization that focuses on Palestinian freedom of movement. Gisha called the changes a form of collective punishment. Human rights NGOs asserted that confusion regarding permitted activity areas led to multiple instances of Israeli forces firing upon farmers and fishermen. According to the Israeli government, Hamas attempted to conduct terrorist activities by sea. According to the United Nations, regular electrical outages often made it necessary for Gazan farmers to work their fields after dark. In some instances, IDF soldiers shot at farmers near the ARA when farmers irrigated their fields at night. UNOCHA reported Palestinians in Gaza considered areas up to 1,000 feet from the perimeter fence to be a “no-go” area, and up to 3,300 feet to be “high risk,” which discouraged farmers from cultivating their fields. UNOCHA estimated nearly 35 percent of Gaza’s cultivable land was in these areas. On September 2, Israeli naval forces shot at multiple Palestinian fishing vessels near Abasan al-Khabira, a town close to an Israeli security fence, injuring one fisherman in the leg.
Major checkpoints, such as Container and Za’tara, caused disruptions in the West Bank when closed, according to media reports. When Container (near Bethlehem) was closed, it cut off one-third of the West Bank population living in the south, including Bethlehem and Hebron, from Ramallah and the north. Similarly, Za’tara checkpoint blocks traffic in and out of the entire northern part of the West Bank, including Nablus, Tulkarem, and Jenin, according to media reports. UNOCHA reported in its 2020 biennial survey that there were 593 permanent obstacles throughout the West Bank. Israeli restrictions on movement affected virtually all aspects of Palestinian life, including attendance at weddings and funerals, access to places of worship, employment, access to agricultural lands, schools, and hospitals, as well as the conduct of journalism and humanitarian and NGO activities. There were also reports of patients dying in traffic before reaching hospitals and ambulances on the way to accidents or scenes of attacks being stopped by the IDF for hours at a time.
Israeli authorities allegedly damaged Palestinian property in the West Bank during raids, sealed off entries and exits to homes and other buildings, and confiscated vehicles and boats. The Israeli government stated that it imposed collective restrictions only if an armed forces commander believed there was a military necessity for the action and that the imposition on the everyday lives of Palestinian civilians was not disproportionate. IDF veterans working at Israeli NGOs, however, described such operations as often being arbitrary.
Israeli authorities restricted or prohibited Palestinian travel on 29 roads and sections of roads (totaling approximately 36 miles) throughout the West Bank, including many of the main traffic arteries, according to B’Tselem. Israeli security forces also imposed temporary curfews confining Palestinians to their homes during arrest operations. Israel continued to restrict movement and development near the barrier, including access by some international organizations.
Palestinian farmers continued to report difficulty accessing their lands in Israeli-controlled Area C of the West Bank. NGOs and community advocates reported numerous Palestinian villages owned land rendered inaccessible by the barrier or settlements. A complicated Israeli permit regime (requiring more than 10 different permits) prevented these Palestinians from fully using their lands. The Israeli NGO HaMoked reported that government of Israel data showed a marked reduction in approvals of permits to cross the barrier compared with previous years. According to HaMoked, the IDF denied 73 percent of farmer permits in 2020, compared with 63 percent in 2019. Only 1 percent of these permits were denied for security reasons, according to the IDF. The vast majority of permits were denied due to difficulties navigating the military bureaucracy and failure to meet increasingly restrictive criteria, according to HaMoked. HaMoked also reported that Israeli authorities did not open gates to these areas early enough in the morning, which reduced the time Palestinian farmers had each day to cultivate their land.
PA-affiliated prosecutors and judges claimed that ISF prohibitions on movement in the West Bank, including Israeli restrictions on the PA’s ability to transport detainees and collect witnesses, hampered their ability to dispense justice.
Israeli restrictions on the importation of dual-use items, including wires, motors, and fiberglass that could be used for the production of weaponry or explosives, prevented some fisherman from being able to repair their boats.
In the West Bank, Israeli military authorities continued to restrict Palestinian vehicular and foot traffic and access to homes and businesses in the downtown H2 sector of Hebron, where approximately 22,000 Palestinians resided. This included a ban on Palestinians walking, driving, or exiting the front door of their homes on Shuhada Street and most of al-Sahleh Street. Israeli security forces cited a need to protect several hundred Israeli settlers resident in the city center. Israeli security forces continued to occupy rooftops of private Palestinian homes in the H2 sector as security positions, forcing families to leave their front door open for soldiers to enter. In response to these reports, the Israeli government stated that freedom of movement is not an absolute right but must be balanced with security and public order.
The Israeli government, citing security concerns, continued to impose intermittent restrictions on Palestinian access to certain religious sites, including the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount. Israeli officials cited security concerns when imposing travel restrictions, including limiting access to Jerusalem during major Jewish holidays as well as continuing construction of Israel’s barrier, which impeded the movements of Palestinian Muslims and Christians in the West Bank.
Foreign Travel: Hamas in Gaza occasionally enforced movement restrictions on Palestinians attempting to exit Gaza to Israel via the Erez Crossing and to Egypt via the Rafah Crossing. Palestinians returning to Gaza were regularly subject to Hamas interrogations regarding their activities in Israel, the West Bank, and abroad.
Hamas required exit permits for Palestinians departing through the Gaza-Israel Erez Crossing. Hamas also prevented some Palestinians from exiting Gaza based on the purpose of their travel or to coerce payment of taxes and fines. There were some reports unmarried women faced restrictions on travel out of Gaza.
On February 14, Gaza’s Supreme Judicial Council issued a notice allowing male guardians to restrict unmarried women’s travel. Following significant public backlash, the notice was revised to allow a male guardian (i.e., a father, brother, or grandfather) to apply for a court order preventing an unmarried woman from traveling if they assess the travel will cause “absolute harm.” She could also be prevented from traveling if the guardian had a pending lawsuit against her that requires a travel ban. The notice also allows parents and the paternal grandfather to apply for travel bans on their adult children and grandchildren if they can show travel could result in similar harm. According to HRW, on September 21, Palestinian border officials at the Rafah Crossing between Gaza and Egypt blocked Afaf al-Najar from traveling to Turkey, where she had received a scholarship to study media and communications, because her father had applied for a judicial travel ban. At an October 3 court hearing, a judge told al-Najar she could study for her degree in Gaza, suggesting he expected her to remain there. The case continued at year’s end.
Hamas restricts the entry of foreigners into Gaza unless a recognized local entity applies for their entrance prior to arrival. Hamas prohibited several international journalists from entering due to a lack of local agencies or persons applying for permits on their behalf.
During the conflict in May, Gazans were not able to get advanced medical care outside of Gaza for several weeks. The Palestinian Center for Human Rights and the ICRC filled the gap temporarily, then ceded the coordination role to the World Health Organization until coordination resumed.
Israeli authorities often denied or did not respond to Palestinian applications for travel permits through the Erez Crossing, including for patients seeking medical care unavailable inside Gaza, citing security concerns. On December 23, Israel granted 500 permits for Christians in Gaza to attend Christmas celebrations in the West Bank, although Israeli authorities largely limited entry and exit from Gaza at the Erez Crossing to humanitarian cases and limited permits to businesspersons and day laborers working in Israel. These limitations prevented some Palestinians from transiting to Jerusalem for visa interviews; to Jordan (often for onward travel) via the Allenby Bridge; and to the West Bank for work or education. There were reports from Gazans that Israeli authorities had imposed additional restrictions on items that could be brought through Erez into Israel, including not being allowed to carry cell phone chargers or more than one pair of shoes. The Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated there were no such new restrictions.
The barrier that divides the majority of the West Bank from Israel, including communities within Jerusalem, and some parts of the West Bank, significantly impeded Palestinian movement. Israeli authorities stated they constructed the barrier to prevent attacks by Palestinian terrorists. In some areas the barrier divided Palestinian communities in the West Bank and Jerusalem and neighborhoods within Jerusalem. At its widest points the barrier extended 11 miles into the West Bank. OCHA estimated that more than 11,000 Palestinians, excluding East Jerusalem residents, resided in communities west of the barrier who were required to travel through Israeli security checkpoints to reach the remainder of the West Bank.
In Jerusalem the barrier affected residents’ access to their extended families, places of worship, employment, agricultural lands, schools, and hospitals, as well as the conduct of journalism and humanitarian and NGO activities. For example, restrictions on access in Jerusalem, including delays at checkpoints lasting up to two hours, made it difficult for Palestinian patients and medical staff trying to reach the six Palestinian hospitals in East Jerusalem that offer specialized care. Authorities sometimes restricted internal movement in Palestinian neighborhoods of Jerusalem and Jerusalem’s Old City and periodically blocked entrances to the East Jerusalem neighborhoods of Issawiya, Silwan, and Jabal Mukabber. The government stated that the barrier was needed for security reasons and restrictions on movement in Jerusalem were temporary and implemented only when necessary for investigative operations, public safety, public order, and when there was no viable alternative.
Israeli officials imposed restrictions on movement of materials, goods, and persons into and out of Gaza based on security and economic concerns (see also section 3, Recent Elections, Gheith case). Amnesty International and HRW reported difficulties by foreign workers in obtaining Israeli visas, which affected the delivery of humanitarian assistance in the West Bank and Gaza. Amnesty International and HRW also reported that the Israeli government denied permits to their employees to enter Gaza from Israel. The United Nations and several international NGOs reported that the Israeli government denied permits to UN and NGO local Gazan staff to exit Gaza into Israel. The Israeli government stated all Gaza exit requests are reviewed on a case-by-case basis in accordance with security considerations arising from Hamas’s de facto control of Gaza.
UNRWA reported staff movement continued to be restricted and unpredictable at several checkpoints, notably those controlling access to East Jerusalem or through the barrier. UNRWA reported that, as of the end of November, movement restrictions in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, had resulted in the loss of at least 241 staff days. With a few exceptions, senior officials and staff of UNRWA and other humanitarian organizations were unable to leave or enter Gaza during the May conflict because of closures of the crossings between Israel and Gaza.
The Israeli government continued selective revocations of residency permits of some Palestinian residents of Jerusalem. This meant those residents could not return to reside in Jerusalem. Reasons for revocation included holding residency or citizenship of another country; living in another country, the West Bank, or Gaza for more than seven years; or, most commonly, being unable to prove a “center of life” (interpreted as full-time residency) in Jerusalem. The Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs reported that as of October, Israeli authorities revoked 22 residency permits in Jerusalem on the grounds of a regulation that allows revocation for individuals who stayed outside of Israel for more than seven years or acquired citizenship or permanent residence status elsewhere. Some Palestinians who were born in Jerusalem but studied abroad reported losing their Jerusalem residency status, but the government denied revoking residency status of anyone who left for the sole purpose of studying abroad. The government added that the residency of individuals who maintained an “affinity to Israel” would not be revoked and that former residents who wished to return to Israel could receive renewed residency status under certain conditions.
Palestinians possessing residency permits issued by the Israeli government but no PA or Jordanian identity document needed special documents to travel abroad.
During the year the Israeli Supreme Court continued to uphold, with few exceptions, the ban imposed in 2000 on students from Gaza attending West Bank universities. Students in Gaza generally did not apply to West Bank universities because they understood Israeli authorities would deny permits or could revoke them during the school year.
Delays in permit approvals by Israeli officials caused some Palestinians to miss the travel dates for exchange programs abroad and matriculation in foreign universities. In some cases authorities asked students to submit to security interviews prior to receiving permits. Israeli authorities detained some students indefinitely without charge following their security interview, which caused other students to refuse to attend these interviews due to fear of being detained.
Egyptian authorities opened the Rafah Crossing to pedestrians several times during the year, and OCHA reported 88,510 exits and 70,771 entrances through the Rafah Crossing as of November, an increase over 25,069 exits and 26,829 entrances in 2020. OCHA reported the Rafah Crossing had been open 198 days and closed 135 days as of November, compared to 2020 when the crossing was only open 126 days. The UN and several international NGOs reported that obtaining permission from the Hamas government in Gaza and the Egyptian government to travel through Rafah was extremely difficult for Palestinians in Gaza and often required paying bribes to local authorities.
According to Gisha, Israeli authorities denied some exit permit applications by residents of Gaza on the grounds that the applicants were “first-degree relative[s] [of] a Hamas operative.” UNOCHA reported that some of its staff members were denied exit permits out of Gaza because UNOCHA coordinated with Hamas as the de facto government in Gaza to facilitate the entry, exit, and transportation of UN personnel. In other cases, UNOCHA reported that its staff received exit permits, but Israeli authorities denied them permission for them to exit after hours of waiting at border crossings.
According to the United Nations, 1,025 persons were displaced in the West Bank and East Jerusalem due to demolitions as of November 17.
UNRWA and other humanitarian organizations provided services to IDPs in Gaza and the West Bank, with some limitations due to Israeli restrictions on movement and border access. Humanitarian actors, including UNRWA, the ICRC, and NGOs, reported they faced difficulties providing assistance during the May conflict in Gaza, due to several factors, including the intensity of the bombing of Gaza by the Israeli military, difficulties establishing a coordination mechanism with the Israeli government, restrictions on movement of goods and persons by Israeli authorities, and, in one notable case of Israelis permitting humanitarian supplies through the Kerem Shalom Crossing, a mortar attack by Hamas.
f. Protection of Refugees
The PA cooperated with UNRWA in the West Bank. In Gaza de facto authorities generally cooperated with UNRWA and allowed it to operate without interference. After the May conflict and a controversial interview given by UNRWA’s Gaza field director, Hamas announced it would no longer guarantee his and his deputy’s safety, effectively forcing out UNRWA’s two most senior officials.
Access to Asylum: Palestinian residents of the West Bank who claimed to be in a life-threatening situation due to their sexual orientation or other reasons, such as domestic violence, did not have access to the asylum system in Israel due to Israel’s claim that the 1951 Refugee Convention does not apply to Palestinians because they receive assistance from the UNRWA, although UNRWA’s mandate does not extend to Israel. Thus, many Palestinians in life-threatening situations resided in Israel without legal status. NGOs stated this situation left these persons, who claimed they could not return to the West Bank due to fear of oppression, vulnerable to human trafficking, violence, and exploitation. Some lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) Palestinians were able to obtain a temporary permit from the Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) allowing them to stay in Israel without authorization to work or to access social services. A Supreme Court petition by NGOs demanding these rights was pending as of the year’s end. According to UNHCR, prior to the issuance of permits, COGAT requested proof of efforts to resettle in a third country. On July 22, in its response to a petition to the Supreme Court demanding the right to work and access to the health-care system for Palestinians with stay permits in Israel, the government stated it viewed a fundamental difference between Palestinians threatened due to cooperation with Israel and Palestinians who fled due to their sexual orientation or domestic violence. The government committed to begin issuing work permits for the first group but not for the second group. Members of the second group could only apply for a permit in demanded fields such as construction and industry, mirroring requirements for Palestinian workers from the West Bank. The government stated that COGAT examined the issue on a case-by-case basis. On July 26, the Supreme Court upheld the government’s position, but also demanded the government update the court regarding the possibility of accepting requests for work permits from the second group, separate from an employer. The case was ongoing at the year’s end.
Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: Israeli security operations in the West Bank led to 27 fatalities of UNRWA-registered Palestinian refugees, five of whom were killed while reportedly conducting an attack on the ISF or Israeli civilians. The ISF conducted an estimated 409 military and policing operations in West Bank refugee camps, injuring 101 Palestinians, according to the United Nations. Of these injuries, 65 persons, including 10 minors, were injured with live ammunition, the United Nations reported. Israeli authorities demolished 141 structures belonging to UNRWA-registered refugees, which resulted in the displacement of 195 refugees, according to the United Nations.
Access to Basic Services: UNRWA provided education, health care, and social services, as well other assistance, in areas of Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Gaza. Palestinian refugees in the occupied territories were eligible to access UNRWA schools and primary health-care clinics, although in some cases, movement restrictions limited access to UNRWA services and resources in the West Bank (see section 1.d.). UNRWA services in Gaza were also disrupted during the May escalation in violence.
Socioeconomic conditions in Gaza severely affected refugees. UNRWA reported that food security continued to be at risk. In March UNRWA temporarily suspended food distribution at its official distribution centers to avoid spreading COVID-19 but began door-to-door delivery as an alternative soon afterwards.
Israeli import restrictions on certain commodities considered as dual use continued to impede humanitarian operations in Gaza, including those directed toward refugees. In 2016 Israeli authorities introduced a requirement whereby approval of UNRWA projects remained valid for only one year. As project implementation timelines often exceeded one year, this requirement necessitated applications for reapproval of projects, which hampered implementation and increased transaction costs for multiple UNRWA projects.
According to NGOs, 40,000 to 50,000 Palestinians in Gaza lacked identification cards recognized by Israel. Some were born in Gaza but were never recognized by Israel as residents, some fled Gaza during the 1967 war, and some left Gaza for various reasons after 1967 but later returned. A small number lacking recognized identification cards were born in Gaza and never left but had only Hamas-issued identification cards. Under the Oslo Accords, the PA administers the Palestinian Population Registry, although status changes in the registry require Israeli government approval. The Israeli government has not processed changes to the registry since 2000 and has not approved family reunifications since 2009. COGAT confirmed that without accurate and updated records in Israeli databases, Israeli authorities could not process Palestinians’ movement in and out of the West Bank and Gaza.
There was no process for foreign spouses or foreign-born children of Palestinians to obtain permanent legal status in the West Bank prior to August, when Israeli authorities permitted 5,000 family reunification petitions to be submitted via the PA’s Ministry of Civil Affairs. Following a meeting between President Abbas and Israeli minister of defense Gantz on December 28, there were indications that Israel would permit the PA to process additional family reunification petitions, although thousands more would likely remain unprocessed due to Israeli-imposed limits on the number of petitions. Since Israel approves the Palestinian family registry, many Palestinian children and young adults, especially those born abroad, remained without legal status at the end of the year, in the region where they had spent most or all of their lives.