Israeli Government to Appeal Ruling Giving Eritrean Army Deserters Refugee Status

The interior and justice ministries believe that the ruling may force the state to reopen asylum requests by thousands of Eritreans, leaving the state unable to deport or imprison them

Protesters at demonstration against Israel's plan to deport African asylum seekers on February 7th, 2018.
\ Moti Milrod

The state intends to appeal an immigration panel’s decision that desertion from the Eritrean army is grounds for receiving refugee status, political sources told Haaretz.

The issue was due to come up at a meeting between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Interior Minister Arye Dery and officials from several ministries, the sources said, adding that at a meeting last week ministry officials agreed that the state should appeal.

The interior and justice ministries believe that the ruling may force the state to reopen asylum requests by thousands of Eritreans, leaving the state unable to deport or imprison them. The ministers were due to discuss how the state would deal with people whose asylum requests were denied based on their status as Eritrean deserters.

The immigration panel made its decision two weeks ago contrary to both the state’s position and the legal brief on which the Population, Immigration and Border Authority based its decision.

Judge Elad Azar ruled against blanket denials against Eritreans whose asylum requests were based on desertion and their fears that the Eritrean authorities would persecute them if they returned.

The immigration panel debated the issue following an appeal by an Eritrean whose asylum request had been denied. The judge overturned the population authority’s decision and ruled that the man was eligible for refugee status after proving he would be persecuted for the political opinions his country’s government would attribute to him based on his desertion.

The judge said that the population authority must examine each case on its merits and that in some cases desertion that led to fears of persecution could be a reason for granting refugee status based on the UN Refugee Convention. He said the ruling did not mean every person who declared that he had deserted or evaded the draft was entitled to refugee status.

“The question of whether the fear claimed by the asylum seeker is well-founded or not must be examined in the context of the situation in the asylum seeker’s country of origin and according to his individual circumstances,” Judge Azar wrote.

“Considering his family or other people with similar profiles could also be relevant. At this stage the reliability of the asylum seeker and his subjective fears must be assessed and weighed in relation to objective information about his country of origin. If there is a reasonable chance that this person may face harm on his return, one can rule in principle that his fears are well-founded.”

Azar added that a document written by experts and attached to the appeal showed that military service in the Eritrean army was a government tool for oppression, and that any draft evasion or desertion were perceived as opposition to the regime or even treason. He said this position conformed with reports by the United Nations on human rights in Eritrea, by the U.S. State Department and by the UNHCR refugee agency.