Israel's Justice Minister Joins Fight to Overturn Landmark Asylum-seekers Ruling

Ayelet Shaked agrees with the interior minister that desertion from the Eritrean army is not grounds for asylum.

Eritrean asylum seekers protest against their government at the EU's office in Ramat Gan on June 21, 2016.
Moti Milrod

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked became the second cabinet member this week to vow to fight a court’s move to let Eritreans seek asylum in Israel even if they are deserters from the Eritrean army.

Shaked said her ministry would take steps to reinstate the Interior Ministry’s legal opinion that would block such sanctuary.

“Eritreans have filed more than 7,000 asylum requests so far, most against the backdrop of desertion and evasion of army service,” Shaked said Tuesday. “This ruling would reopen the door that the government managed to shut and flood Israel with thousands of infiltrators who receive legal permission to stay.”

On Sunday, a custody appeals tribunal overruled the Interior Ministry’s opinion that deserters from the Eritrean army are never entitled to refugee status.

From 2009 to the start of July this year, Eritreans have filed 7,218 requests for asylum in Israel, the Population, Immigration and Border Authority says. Eight requests have been approved, 3,105 await a response and the rest have been canceled or rejected.

In the past, Israel granted Eritreans and Sudanese temporary group protection. Only at the end of 2012, under the pressure of a court, did the state begin to let them apply for asylum.

“One mistaken underlying assumption is that the asylum petitions to which this policy applies are not examined individually. That is not true,” Shaked said, adding that a special committee studies each asylum petition and advises the interior minister, providing meticulous reasoning for each case.

“There is no blanket decision on a group of people. Each case is decided according to its circumstances,” she said.

On Monday, Interior Minister Arye Dery ordered an immediate appeal against Sunday’s ruling by the Jerusalem custody tribunal. The court said desertion perceived as a political act could lead to severe punishment, thus warranting asylum status.

Shaked said that after years of leniency on asylum petitions by Eritrean deserters, Britain had also ruled that desertion or draft evasion were not grounds for refugee status.

Until the end of 2012, Israel refused to examine asylum requests, noting however that it did not expel the migrants. In May 2013, Israel rejected the first asylum request by an Eritrean based on the opinion that the court rejected this week.