Eritrean migrants in Tel Aviv..
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
The British government has published a new report challenging the narrative of most Eritrean migrants, the UN and pro-migrant NGOs in Israel that their home country mistreats them when they return.
Although the report was issued on August 4 and is based on a mission to Eritrea in February 7-20, The Jerusalem Post on Thursday was the first to publish its results in English.
For the first time, the report includes interviews with 30 migrants who had come to Israel but later returned to Eritrea who said that they were well-treated and that their primary reason for coming to Israel was economic.
To be granted refugee status and obligate Israel to permit Eritreans to remain in the country, each person must prove they would be persecuted if they returned to their country of origin and did not come to the country for mere economic reasons.
According to the vast majority of the tens of thousands of Eritreans in Israel, the UN and past reports from pro-migrant Israeli NGOs, most Eritreans in Israel left and cannot return because of persecution.
Past British and Danish reports had contradicted the general narrative on the issue, but both reports were called into question.
In contrast, the current report has dropped some of the past report’s controversial points and was part of a longer and more comprehensive visit by British officials to Eritrea, while sticking to the point that Eritreans can return home without persecution.
The 30 Eritreans who returned from Israel were part of 49 Eritreans total who returned from other countries and a total of 120 interviewees, which included diplomats and humanitarian aid workers.
One interviewee told the mission, he left Eritrea because, “I needed money for my family. Mainly for economic reasons. I went to Israel. Stayed for about five years and came back. And when I came back, I came back voluntarily... I wasn’t forced to come back. After five years, I couldn’t find a job. They sent me to a detention center and I didn’t want to be there. If I could have got more work, I would have stayed.”
He added that he had claimed asylum in Israel, “because I migrated illegally, I had to tell them I have a political problem so I claimed asylum. But my reason was economic.”
Asked if he was forced into the country’s infamous mandatory military national service with wide reports of torture and mistreatment, he said he was not conscripted – “I joined my family and the government allows me to go wherever I want.”
Another interviewee also said he left since his “main problem was economic. After five years, I went to Holot [Detention Center in Israel]. Didn’t want to go there, so left.”
The second interviewee also stated that he faced no consequences from Eritrea’s government upon his return.
The Israeli NGO, the Hotline for Refugees and Migrants, slammed the report as being based on a much smaller number of interviews than the June 2015 and June 2016 UNHRC reports on the same issue, which concluded Eritreans could not return without being persecuted as part of Eritrea’s widespread crimes against its own population.
Further, the hotline said that none of the 30 Eritreans in the report was part of the country’s anti-government factions of which there are many.
The NGO noted that they were not concerned about being in contact with the Eritrean Embassy in Israel for getting a passport issued, whereas most Eritreans fear coming to the embassy will bring the country’s wrath down on them.
It added wryly that it was also impossible for the British mission to interview the many returned-Eritreans who the government has shot on sight, is torturing or has sent to one of its unsanitary prisons.
Finally, the hotline noted that recent British government statistics indicate that 85 percent of Eritreans who the Home Office has denied refugee status have succeeded in getting refugee status on appeal from the British courts.
In other words, the NGO said that British executive’s reports are not even trusted by their own courts and should be disregarded in Israel as well in favor of the UN’s report, especially “in light of the current hostile atmosphere” in Europe to migrants generally stemming from the spike in Syrian refugees.
Yonatan Jakubowicz of the Israeli Immigration Policy Center said there have been past accounts that Eritreans were not mistreated for returning, but this report was significant because it was the first with testimonies from Eritreans confirming that narrative who came back specifically from Israel.