Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit has directed the staff of the Population and Immigration Authority to reexamine the criteria applied to asylum requests by Eritreans in Israel following a ruling last February by an immigration appeals tribunal in Jerusalem that desertion from the Eritrean army can constitute grounds for asylum in Israel.
Following Mendelblit’s order, the Population Authority suspended the handling of asylum requests from citizens of Eritrea until guidelines on the issue are developed.
The granting of asylum is based in general on a demonstration that those applying for it would have a well-founded fear of persecution if they were returned to their home countries.
In 2013, Israel adopted a policy that desertion from the Eritrean army alone was not sufficient on its own to provide grounds for asylum and that additional evidence of plight would have to be provided to obtain asylum and refugee status in Israel.
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As a result of Mendelblit’s directive, the staff of the Population Authority, which is part of the Interior Ministry, will develop guidelines to define what kind of additional evidence is required in addition to desertion from the East African country’s military. At a news conference on Wednesday, the Population Authority’s director general, Shlomo Mor-Yosef, confirmed that the authority’s staff has suspended the handling of asylum requests from Eritrean nationals until the new guidelines are developed.
“With the attorney general’s directive, we are rethinking the criteria,” he said. “Not everyone who has served in the [Eritrean] army deserves refugee status, but we are developing a ranking of situations. There are those who fled before being drafted and there are those who have suffered torture, and there’s a difference.”
As part of the process to develop the guidelines, which is already underway, an advisory committee is due to be convened to consider several asylum requests.
The committee, which will include representatives from the justice and foreign ministries, will issue recommendations to the attorney general and the interior minister. The recommendations are expected to affect about 25,000 asylum seekers in Israel from Eritrea, who constitute a majority of all of the asylum seekers in Israel.
In February, immigration appeals tribunal judge Elad Azar ruled that, contrary to the government’s position, there should be no blanket rejection of asylum requests filed by Eritrean army deserters who claim a fear of persecution by the Eritrean authorities for fleeing the military.
Judge Azar overturned a Population Authority decision rejecting an asylum request filed by an Eritrean. Azar ruled that the applicant was in fact entitled to refugee status in Israel because he had demonstrated a well-founded fear of persecution “as a result of the political opinion attributed to him by the authorities in his country due to his desertion from military service.”
The Eritrean asylum seeker claimed at the time that as a result of his desertion, he is viewed by the authorities in Eritrea as a political opponent of the regime and is therefore entitled to refugee status. The Israeli government had taken the position in the case that desertion or evasion of military service was not enough on its own to constitute grounds for refugee status.