Israel Denies Asylum to Eritrean Refugee in First State Response to Application

Another 1,403 applications filed by refugees held in detention centers in recent years remain unanswered; Eritrean national, imprisoned since arriving a year and five months ago, requested asylum because he evaded military service in his country.

Ilan Lior
Ilan Lior
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Israel on Thursday denied asylum to an Eritrean refugee who has been imprisoned since he arrived a year and five months ago − the first time that the state has responded to an application for asylum. Another 1,403 applications filed by refugees held in detention centers in recent years remain unanswered.

The Eritrean national, 23, asked for asylum in Israel because he had evaded military service in his country. He testified that he had left Eritrea in August 2011 to avoid conscription and stayed in a refugee camp in Ethiopia for three months, then in a refugee camp in Sudan. After that he crossed Sinai and entered Israel from Egypt in January last year.

The advisory committee on refugee affairs wrote to the interior minister that the applicant does not fulfill the criteria of the UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees ‏(CRSR‏), which Israel has signed.

According to the interior minister’s decision, draft evasion or desertion are not sufficient to establish political persecution justifying a refugee status, the committee wrote.

“Your application has been examined and it appears that your request is based solely on economic motives and not on political persecution,” the state said in its reply to the applicant.

The state informed the man via the Hotline for Migrant Workers, the NGO that submitted his asylum application, that he may file an appeal against the denial within 14 days. However, the appeal must be based on new information or facts.
Contrary to the state’s reply, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees ruled in 2011 that evasion of military service is the main cause of political persecution in Eritrea and may be penalized by harsh imprisonment in inhuman conditions, torture and even execution.

Courts around the world have recognized draft evasion in Eritrea as sufficient justification for receiving political asylum on the basis of the refugee convention.

Adi Lerner, of Hotline for Migrant Workers, slammed the state’s denial of asylum and said it was unreasonable. “The new interior minister has made a wretched decision, the kind even his predecessor didn’t dare to make. The decision means that a man who will be subjected to torture and even death in his country isn’t seen as a refugee in Israel,” she said.

“This puts an end to the illusion that Israel has any kind of asylum system,” she said.

Israel said earlier this week it had not responded to a single asylum application because it had not finished examining them. The state also told the High Court of Justice that most of the 1,404 migrants who applied for asylum are labor seekers, rather than refugees, despite having failed to complete an investigation into their background.

Both of these statements were written in response to a petition submitted by human rights groups against a new law that allows anyone who crosses the border illegally to be jailed for three years or more.

The state told the court there are around 56,000 illegal migrants in Israel, of whom 66 percent are Eritreans, 25 percent are Sudanese and the rest are from other African countries. The Eritreans and Sudanese can’t be deported because they are entitled to collective protection.

Some 2,000 illegal migrants are being held in Israeli jails, and of these, about 1,750 are being held under the new law.

Men taking a break at the Saharonim detention center, Nov. 22, 2011.Credit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz