The rate at which Eritreans are recognized as refugees in Israel is less than 0.1 percent. Some 8,500 Eritreans have submitted asylum requests, but only eight have had them granted, while more than 3,000 are still awaiting an answer. Admittedly, Eritrean asylum seekers are given temporary protection and are not deported, but the state exerts great pressure on them to go back to their country or to some other country in Africa.
Until 2013, the Interior Ministry’s Population, Immigration and Border Authority refused to even consider their asylum requests, on the grounds that in any case they weren’t being deported. Only after a court order did it begin considering them – and then it rejected them almost automatically.
Via the population authority, the state tries to find various ways to reject asylum requests by Eritrean nationals. The authority has rejected many requests on the basis of a legal opinion stating that someone who deserts from the Eritrean army isn’t entitled to refugee status. In other cases, it has argued that the applications were submitted more than a year after the asylum seeker entered the country. The first argument is currently being considered by an appellate custody tribunal, but the belated filing argument has already been rejected by the courts.
On Wednesday, we discovered (Ilan Lior, Haaretz) that the state has now found a new way to avoid recognizing the refugees. The population authority hired the Israeli Immigration Policy Center, without a tender, to prepare recommendations and reports that it could use to update the state’s position on Eritrean asylum seekers.
The organization in question has run campaigns to deport asylum seekers from Eritrea and Sudan and claims that almost all are labor migrants rather than refugees. “We must put an end, once and for all, to the refugee deception of Eritrean infiltrators,” declared Yonatan Yakobovich, one of the center’s founders, while ignoring reports by the United Nations and the U.S. State Department about the ongoing grave human rights violations in Eritrea and the danger to the lives of regime opponents. The center also pushed draconian legislation that obliges asylum seekers to put a significant chunk of their salaries into a special deposit that they get back only upon leaving Israel.
The Hotline for Refugees and Migrants claims that the center is not a professional research organization, but rather a group with a political goal – getting rid of asylum seekers from Africa. The hotline has asked the government’s tenders committee, the Interior Ministry and the population authority to cancel the contract with the center.
Interior Minister Arye Dery recently recognized the special status of refugees from Sudan’s Darfur region and even said the state would grant temporary residency to 200 of them. He would do well to also order the Population, Immigration and Border Authority to terminate its contract with the Israeli Immigration Policy Center and all its other efforts to deny the problem of refugees from Eritrea and Sudan. Resources must be invested in absorbing the asylum seekers who are already here, especially since the flow of asylum seekers entering the country has dried up completely.
The above article is Haaretz's lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.
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