Eritreans Should Be Deported Back to Their Country, Israeli Appellate Tribunal Says

The adjudicator accused “infiltrators” of “rampant crime.” Lawyers and human rights organizations: This is a political manifesto citing false reports the tribunal head heard in the media

File photo: Neve Shaanan neighborhood, south Tel Aviv
Tomer Appelbaum

Eritreans should be deported back to their country, an administrative law judge at the Jerusalem Appellate Tribunal said Wednesday. The recommendation was given during a discussion on an appeal filed by an Eritrean refugee against the Interior Ministry’s refusal to grant him asylum.

The appellate tribunal was established in 2014 to conduct judicial review over the Population and Immigration Authority.

>> Read more: Too soon to say if Eritrean asylum seekers can be sent back home, say Israeli officials

Accusing “infiltrators” of “rampant crime,” Menachem Pazsitzky also noted as grounds for expulsion the implications for the Israelis who live near asylum seekers and the peace treaty Eritrea and Ethiopia signed recently.

“I recommend that the Israeli authorities in charge of handling immigration and infiltration end the policy of non-expulsion for infiltrators from Eritrea,” Pazsitzky said, adding that he was not addressing the case of “infiltrators from Sudan” in the present hearing.

Israel should send the Eritreans directly back to Eritrea because of the “great suffering caused to Israeli residents living in proximity to the infiltrators, the rampant crime by infiltrators in the city streets, the helplessness of the legal system at putting them on criminal trial, and the failure of solutions tried so far,” the adjudicator wrote.

Among the solutions that didn’t work, he listed the Holot “open detention” facility; expelling them not to their homelands but to third countries; and the UN plan.

Pazsitzky added that his conclusion "is bolstered by the political/regional changes," referring to the treaty between Ethiopia and Eritrea, to a recent decision by a court in Switzerland that said that Eritreans could be returned and to Eritrea's limiting compulsory military service to 18 months. National service had previously been limited to 18 months too, formally speaking, but in practice service was unlimited in time since 1998, when war with Ethiopia broke out.

Michal Pomeranz, a lawyer representing the asylum seeker whose case Pazsitzky is hearing, urged the court to reverse the decision by the Population and Immigration Authority and recognize her client as a refugee. He had deserted the Eritrean army and the regime views him as a political opponent, hence his persecution, she explained. The Israeli state for its part says asylum seekers cannot cite military dodging or desertion as relevant grounds for personal persecution; rather, such claims only form the basis for a general situation in Eritrea that relates to all Eritrean asylum seekers.

“If it is dangerous to return Eritreans to their country, why does the state not recognize them as refugees, why does it settle for not expelling them?” Pazsitzky wrote. “And if they do not face mortal danger if they go home, why does the state refrain from deporting them to Eritrea? I believe that the state’s position is highly problematic. How can group protection be granted, under which Eritreans are not expelled back to their country because of the danger they can expect if they return, while on the other hand, they have no status in Israel beyond the right to work."

The appellant did not provide evidence that any of the recognized grounds for asylum apply in his case, Pazsitzky wrote. He said that "based on experience, reaching decisions on any asylum case can take years and many abuse the system, raising baseless arguments and lying, in order to receive status in Israel."

Pomeranz said that Pazsitzky’s ruling was “surprising, to say the least. Beyond the questions that arise from the ruling being sent to the media before it was sent to my office, it is a political manifesto about subjects that were never discussed before the adjudicator."

“The ruling therefore includes a great many misstatements based on things the adjudicator heard in the media, without our being given a chance to react to them,” Pomeranz said. “The claim that courts in Switzerland and Germany agreed to deport Eritrean refugees is simply wrong, as the Swiss embassy recently clarified. No western country today expels refugees to Eritrea and the UN refugee commission determined that most have grounds for asylum."

Israeli human rights organizations (the Hotline for Refugees and Migrants, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, Kav LaOved, Physicians for Human Rights, ASSAF and the ARDC) said in response: "This is an irregular ruling, in which the adjudicator chose to lay out his political doctrine and launch an unprecedented attack against Supreme Court rulings and government decisions. The adjudicator's recommendations are based on false reports and assumptions that have not yet been verified. That being said, we also join the call of the adjudicator to grant genuine protection and status to all asylum seekers who are not subject to deportation and thereby grant them basic social and economic rights."