Eritrean migrants in Tel Aviv..
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
The state must reconsider across-the-board whether Eritreans who came to Israel illegally should get refugee status, a special Jerusalem appeals court for refugee issues ruled on Sunday.
Until now, the Interior Ministry has nearly universally rejected applications by Eritreans for refugee status on the grounds that fleeing military service, the reason many of them give for leaving Eritrea, for Israel, is not included in the definition of being “persecuted,” which would obligate Israel to give them refugee status.
Under the Refugee Convention, which Israel is a party to, persons who cannot return to their country of origin because of threat of persecution must be granted refugee status.
The court said that the state could not use such a sweeping argument to dismiss refugee applications and certainly not on the basis of concerns that too many Eritreans getting refugee status at the same time would threaten the state’s Jewish character or similar considerations.
Citing UN and other reports, the approximately 30,000 Eritreans who came to Israel illegally, represented by the Hotline for Refugees and Migrants, say that service in the Eritrean army for many is a sentence to torture or death in a country where the rule of law is weak and the army is used to achieve many oppressive goals.
The state, in contrast, has cited British and Danish government reports that state that fleeing the Eritrean army is not a basis to receive refugee status, but that and other arguments were unsuccessful Sunday.
The Justice Ministry had not responded by press time, but it was assumed that it would appeal the ruling.
Even if the decision holds, the government could try to raise other grounds for rejecting Eritrean migrants or for rejecting specific individuals.
In March, the Supreme Court heard an appeal to strike down the state’s current policy of indefinitely imprisoning migrants denied refugee status if they refuse self-deportation to an unnamed third country.
If pro-migrant groups strike down the bar to Eritrean refugee status at the Supreme Court level, the state might have to rethink its policy on the issue for a fifth time.
The Supreme Court has already struck down the state’s migrant policy three times in recent years.
In February, the Knesset passed the government’s fourth policy in the last few years to address African migrants who arrive in Israel illegally. The policy permits the placement of migrants in a combination of closed and open detention centers for up to 12 months and the 12-month number came from a suggestion by the Supreme Court itself.
As of March, out of 43,000 migrants (including also Sudanese), only four had been granted refugee status and hundreds of requests had been rejected.