Aid Organization for Refugees and Asylum Seekers in Israel

Judge says Eritrean draft dodgers may be granted refugee status

Date: 16.2.18 Source: Ynet, Amir Alon

A Jerusalem appellate tribunal dealing with immigration published a precedential verdict Thursday that may affect the manner in which asylum requests submitted by thousands of Eritrean nationals currently in Israel are inspected, thereby stalling the plan to deport migrants to Rwanda starting April 1.

Judge Elad Azar criticized the Population and Immigration Authority for not reviewing the asylum requests of Eritreans individually, instead choosing to reject them a priori following the Interior Ministry's basic stance according to which, "The mere act of draft dodging or desertion from the Eritrean army does not constitute in and of itself cause for being granted refugee status."

Azar's verdict was handed down on an appeal made by an Eritrean man who deserted from military service in his home country, petitioning against the rejection of his request for asylum.

"The appellant has proven with sufficient validity a well-based suspicion of persecution due to political opinions ascribed to him by his country's regime as a result of his defection from service," the court said, instructing to grant him refugee status within 45 days.

The Eritrean will thus become only the 12th person from the northeast African country to be granted refugee status in Israel, out of a total of 8,259 requests submitted until the end of 2017.

Most Eritrean in Israel have defected from their country's army, in which most citizens are forced to serve for prolonged periods of time starting at age 18, sometimes indefinitely.

Military service in the country is not limited to strictly army missions, however, and is described by human rights groups as forced labor for minute wages. Citizens refusing to serve or attempting to escape are arrested, tortured and even murdered.

Most Western countries approve similar requests for asylum by deserters at a rate of 70-90 percent.

The court expounded on its ruling, saying, "Subjective evidence put forward by the appellant—in conjunction with existing information about the Eritrean government's attitudes towards deserters—are enough to meet the burden of proof necessary to prove a causal link between the persecution he says he will be subjected to and said persecution stemming at least in part from his government considering his defection the voicing of a political opinion.

"In so doing, the appellant has founded a fear of persecution due to a cause recognized by the convention on refugees."

The judge added, "It may be assumed that this verdict will carry implications for asylum requests by other Eritreans, the vast majority of which have been rejected under the claim that defection 'did not stem from a political stance of objecting to the regime' on the part of the asylum seeker, and is therefore not a cause recognized by the refugee convention."

The judge did qualify his prior assertion by writing, "The verdict should not be considered an a priori ruling that anyone who claims to be a deserter or defector from army or national service in Eritrean is entitled to refugee status."

The Eritrean's attorneys iterated their hope that following the court's ruling, previously rejected similar requests for asylum will be reexamined.

The Population and Immigration Authority said it still needed to study the verdict and its implications before any decision could be made on future conduct on the matter.

'Another nail in the immoral deportation's coffin'

Joint List MK Dov Khenin responded to the court's decision in saying it "pulled the rug from under the government's false claims that these were not refugees. Now it turns out thousands of asylum requests were rejected in contravention of accepted interpretation of the refugee convention."

"The government should reexamine any requests previously denied, as well as requests never submitted because asylum seekers knew Israel did not recognize their persecution for that reason," Khenin stated.

The grassroots "Stop the Expulsion" movement said that, "Dozens of asylum seekers are currently held in the Holot detention facility and are at their wit's end. They're counting down what few days they have left before they are forced to choose between losing their freedom and losing their personal security.

"Moreover, Holot also houses dozens of migrants set to be incarcerated in the coming days whose requests were summarily rejected on the basis that their defection from the army did not constitute cause for refugee status

"The Israeli government rejected countless such requests for years. Today another nail was driven into deportation's coffin—a deportation that is immoral, illegal and now—as determined by the court—false. It's time to stop the expulsion."

https://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-5116484,00.html