Israel Doesn't Differentiate Between Eritrean Regime Supporters and Critics

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Israeli police officers and asylums seekers in south Tel Aviv, June 2018.
Israeli police officers and asylums seekers in south Tel Aviv, June 2018.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

Israeli authorities do not check whether Eritrean nationals dwelling in the country support President Isaias Afwerki's regime - and hence, may be at risk if they're repatriated - Yossi Edelstein, head of the Population Authority’s enforcement and foreigners administration, told the Interior Affairs Committee of the Knesset on Monday.

Presently 26,081 Eritreans live in Israel. Israeli police estimate that about 10 percent support Afwerki.

>> In Tel Aviv, a Battle Is Being Waged for the Future of Eritrea

The topic of Eritrean political affiliations arose after violent clashes erupted in south Tel Aviv in recent weeks between supporters and opponents of the regime in Asmara, spurred on by the occasion of Eritrea's 25th independence day.

During the debate on Monday, the chairman of the Interior Affairs Committee, Yoav Kish, asked Edelstein if Israel has photographs of people who aren’t actually refugees because they don’t oppose their regime, why isn’t anything being done?”

Edelstein answered that the population authority doesn’t get into issues of who opposes the regime or not: “We do not acknowledge that division,” he said. “Today a person could be an opponent and tomorrow, a supporter" and any requests for asylum or residence are "checked individually.”

The 1951 Refugee Convention states that a refugee is a person who has grounds to fear persecution based on race, religion, nationality or political view. Israel has yet to look into the great majority of asylum requests. The state comptroller said recently that 6,880 asylum requests submitted by Eritreans and Sudanese remain open, including applications filed more than five years ago.

So far Israel has acknowledged only 10 Eritreans as refugees.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government has threatened to deport asylum seekers but a deal to expel them to other African countries fell through earlier this year.

During the Knesset debate, Zvi Sharabi, commander of a police station, was asked about the state of violence in south Tel Aviv, and told the lawmakers that there has been an “increase of dozens of violent cases” such as robbery and assault relative to the median in 2017.

In Sharabi’s view, the increase in violence is due, among other things, to the police not having administrative enforcement abilities. “Last year we could send them to Saharonim and Holot,” Sharabi said, referring to detention facilities.

Since its independence 25 years ago, Eritrea has been controlled by the military, and conscription is mandatory. The United Nations has also found evidence of the authority pursuing arbitrary arrests, incarceration, persecution, rape and murder of civilians. Many opponents to the Afwerki regime have fled the country, including to Israel.

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