Israel Rejected 98.5 Percent of Eritrean Asylum Requests Over Two Years

The Population Authority approved only 16 out of 1,063 asylum applications that were slated for re-examination in light of new acceptance criteria in the last two years, a much lower rate than among EU countries

Bar Peleg
Bar Peleg
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South Tel Aviv, in April.
South Tel Aviv, in April.Credit: Moti Milrod
Bar Peleg
Bar Peleg

Since June 2019, Israel has rejected 98.5 percent of Eritrean asylum requests, with a 1.5-percent approval rate. Among EU countries the average approval rate is 63 percent.

The data, obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request by the HIAS refugee aid organization, shows that since June 2019 the state began examining 2,400 asylum requests and made a final decision on 1,063 of them, of which only 16 were approved. The rejections were made without being reviewed by the advisory committee to the interior minister.

The requests that were reviewed are part of 13,000 asylum requests by Eritreans that the state said in 2019 it would reexamine – on the basis of stricter criteria set by the government for approving asylum requests from Eritreans who deserted or dodged army service in their country.

However, since then, the government has only begun to review 2,500 requests. The criteria were formulated following a decision by a special team established to address the subject after the Jerusalem Court of Appeals ruled last year that desertion from a national army could be a justification for granting refugee status.

Under the new criteria, asylum seekers must prove that their desertion from the army was due to a clear and long-standing ideological motive – a more stringent demand than what appears in the directives of the UN High Commissioner on Refugees.

Police in South Tel Aviv.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

The second criterion stipulates that refugee status will be granted when the desertion is accompanied by “circumstances that in conjunction with the draft-dodging/desertion form a pretext for persecution.” This criterion calls for consideration of various circumstances for which the asylum seeker was or would have been exposed to serious harm in Eritrea “for having a specific background, or if, due to these circumstances, the asylum seeker was denied basic rights.”

The rate of approval for asylum requests by Eritreans in Israel is a tiny fraction of the rate in Europe. Data from the UN High Commissioner on Refugees shows that from 2014-2017, the average approval rate for these requests in EU countries was 63 percent, with 88 percent of the Eritrean asylum seekers also receiving supplemental protection. Figures from the Central Bureau of Statistics show that in the EU, from July to September 2021, 81 percent of asylum requests by Eritreans were approved (out of 2,000 requests).

An official at the Population Authority says that the majority of the asylum seekers from Eritrea do not want to serve in the Eritrean army, and that this fact alone is not sufficient for their asylum requests to be approved. He says the huge disparity between the approval rate in Israel and the other countries is because Israel does not accept military desertion as a reason for asylum. He adds that the authority recently learned that an Eritrean whose asylum request was approved by Israel had returned to Eritrea before receiving an answer to his application, which seems to show that he was not actually in any danger in Eritrea.

In November, HIAS , the Hotline for Refugees and Migrants, and Tel Aviv University’s Refugee Rights Clinic wrote to Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit and Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked to protest the handling of asylum requests. The organizations say a review of dozens of rejected asylum requests turned up fundamental flaws that are characteristic of the review process as a whole. They say that in some cases, the interviews conducted were extremely brief, and in the vast majority of the requests that they reviewed, no further interviews were conducted after the new criteria were issued.

The Jerusalem Population Authority, in 2020.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

“These were shallow interviews in which the authority ignored practically all relevant information related to prison conditions in Eritrea, to lengthy incarcerations, to political persecution of anyone the Eritrean administration views as an opponent of the regime, and more – questions that could have affected the authority’s decisions today and led to recognition of refugees who are entitled to this status by virtue of the Refugee Convention,” the organizations wrote.

The Population and Immigration Authority said that they examine asylum requests “in accordance with the directives of the Refugee Convention, Israeli Law and the criteria for considering asylum requests from Eritrean asylum seekers. If an asylum seeker proves a well-founded fear of persecution, and the unit that deals with requests for political asylum and the members of the advisory committee on refugee affairs concludes that his case falls under the criteria set in the Refugee Convention, a positive recommendation will be forwarded to the interior minister, who is authorized to decide based on her judgment. If an asylum seeker does not meet the convention’s criteria, his asylum request will be rejected.”

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