Israel to Reconsider Refused Tigrayan Asylum Pleas

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Asylum seekers in south Tel Aviv, this year.
Asylum seekers in south Tel Aviv, this year.Credit: Moti Milrod

Israel will issue temporary resident visas to residents of Ethiopia’s Tigray region living in Israel who have applied for asylum due to the worsening civil war in Ethiopia. The new policy applies to individuals whose asylum applications were refused in the past, and will prevent Tigrayans from being expelled.

The new policy was explained in a letter sent by Yossi Edelstein, head of enforcement and administration of foreigners at Israel’s Population and Immigration Authority, to attorneys Anat Ben-Dor of the Refugee Rights Program and Inbar Barel of the Hotline for Refugees and Migrants.

“Experts in our office and in the relevant ministries are monitoring events in the Tigray region of Ethiopia,” Edelstein wrote.

The Population and Immigration Authority, part of the Interior Ministry, confirmed the contents of the letter. In response to a question from Haaretz, the agency said the new policy covers “a group of Ethiopians from the Tigray region who had submitted applications in the past and been refused. In light of the situation in the Tigray region, it was decided to freeze the expulsions for the time being and examine the situation.”

Figures obtained by Haaretz show that so far 48 Tigrayans living in Israel have resubmitted applications for asylum due to the war, after their first applications were refused. Applicants will receive a temporary resident visa similar to those held by Eritrean and Sudanese citizens who are deemed foreign nationals who cannot be returned to their home countries.

The scene of an Ethiopian airstrike in Mekele, the capital of the Tigray region in October.Credit: AP

According to figures obtained by the Hotline through a freedom of information request, as of December 2020 some 8,700 Ethiopian nationals were living in Israel, including 640 minors. The great majority entered Israel on tourist visas, and 771 applied for asylum between 2013 and 2020. At the time the figures were prepared last year, 565 applications had been processed, of which 516 were refused. Another 17 applicants “left voluntarily,” 18 received nonrefugee status and nine refugee status. The figures do not break out from which parts of Ethiopia the applicants came from.

“The Population Authority has done well to recognize in a humane and just way the crisis in Ethiopia between the Tigrayans and Amharas that has turned into a civil war,” said Tomer Warsha, a lawyer whose office specializes in immigration law and has represented many Tigrayans. “We in our office are ready to provide legal representation and assistance to ensure the full rights that come with such protection.”

Barrel, who is head of the legal team at the Hotline, told Haaretz she had mixed views on the new policy.

“We’re glad that the Population and Immigration Authority will be granting visas to Tigrayan, even if they had rejected their applications in the past,” she said. “However, the declaration is self-evident and requires the authority not to expel people to a place where their lives are in danger. In light of the difficult war in Tigray – a war that is expanding to other parts of the country – it would have been appropriate for the authority not to condition protection on an application already undertaken by asylum seekers and declare that it does not intend to carry out deportations to Ethiopia at all at this time.”

The Ethiopian government declared a state of emergency last week as Tigrayan rebels were advancing on the capital of Addis Ababa. A spokesman for the Tigray People’s Liberation Front said its forces had occupied the strategic towns of Dessie and Kombolcha in the Amhara region.

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed last week appealed to citizens to take up arms to block advancing rebel fighters. Citizens must “organize and march through [any] legal manner with every weapon and power ... to prevent, reverse and bury the terrorist TPLF,” according to a translation on the Addis Standard news website.

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