The Interior Ministry is challenging asylum claims by Eritreans who, it says, are Ethiopian and thus eligible for deportation. A Central District Court judge has ruled in favor of the state in 18 out of 19 petitions against the ministry’s classification.
Eritrean citizens in Israel are granted collective 'temporary protection' and are not deported to Eritrea. There are currently 36,067 Eritreans in Israel, according to Border and Immigration Authority data.
In recent months, the state has increased its efforts to expel Eritrean and Sudanese citizens. Most of the effort is focused on convincing migrants to sign controversial 'consent' forms stating they agree to return. Another method is to classify Eritreans as Ethiopian, in spite of their insistence that they are Eritrean. Most African migrants do not have official documents, with the final citizenship determination being made by the Interior Ministry, based on a personal interview.
Last month, Judge Avraham Yaakov, Deputy President of the Central District Court, ruled in 19 petitions against the classifications of the Interior Ministry. Only in one case did the judge accept the petition and reverse the state's classification. In four other cases, the judge determined that, while the state had not substantiated its classification of the petitioners as Ethiopian, the petitioners had not proved that they were Eritrean either. In the other 14 cases, Judge Yaakov accepted the state's classification that the migrants were indeed Ethiopian and therefore not eligible for collective temporary protection.
The only petition accepted was that of a 23-year-old migrant who entered Israel in June 2011 and was detained in the Saharonim detention center for five months. Ministry officials determined she was Ethiopian on the basis of a number of interviews, arguing that she did not know details about her alleged village, did not present an official document, was inconsistent in her replies, could not give information about her spouse who was already in Israel and identified as Eritrean and knew almost nothing about Eritrea's history. Judge Yaakov rejected the state's arguments, including the claim that she knew little of the village of Monoxito, where she said she lived, pointing to testimony that detailed the names of villages leading to Monoxito, including the location of certain villages where medical treatment was available. Regarding the state's claim that she knew little of Eritrean history, the judge noted that she had on four years schooling.
Attorney Yadin Elam, who represented the woman, said that "this story reflects the arbitrariness of the ministry official's classifications. She was held for five months because officials decided she was Ethiopian without any real justification. From her interview, one can learn that its purpose was not to reveal the truth, but rather to prove, by all means possible, that she was not Eritrean. The courts have repeatedly instructed officials to be extremely cautious during such interviews, saying that it is often a matter of life and death. It's about time the officials understood and conducted themselves according to these directives."
In one of the four undecided cases, the judge said that the state claimed a migrant was Ethiopian without asking him any questions about Ethiopia.
One of the migrants whose petition was rejected by the judge has been recognized as Eritrean by the UN refugee agency. In the interview he said he was born in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa and lived in Ethiopia for thirteen years before living in Eritrea for nine years. The judge rejected his petition, saying that he was "born in Ethiopia and lived there for many years, does not speak Tigrigna, but does speak Amharic fluently."
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