Israel to appeal decision to consider asylum for Eritrean army deserters

The Israeli government will appeal an immigration panel’s decision that deserting the Eritrean army is grounds for receiving refugee status, political insiders have told Israeli national paper Haaretz.

The issue was on the agenda at a meeting between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Interior Minister Arye Dery and officials from several ministries. The ministers were due to discuss how the state would deal with asylum seekers whose asylum requests were denied based on their status as Eritrean army deserters.

The ruling may force the state to reconsider the asylum requests of thousands of Eritreans in Israel, meaning the state would not be able to proceed with its plans of mass deportations of the country’s Eritrean migrants.

Earlier, Judge Elad Azar ruled against blanket denials of Eritreans whose asylum requests were based on desertion and their fears that the Eritrean authorities would persecute them if they returned.

The immigration panel debated the issue following an appeal by an Eritrean whose asylum request had been denied. The judge overturned an earlier decision and ruled that the man was eligible for refugee status, after proving he would be persecuted for the political opinions his country’s government would attribute to him based on his desertion.

The judge said that each asylum case must be examined based on its merits and that in some cases desertion that led to fears of persecution could be a reason for granting refugee status, based on the UN Refugee Convention. He said the ruling did not mean every person who declared that he had deserted or evaded the draft was entitled to refugee status.

“The question of whether the fear claimed by the asylum seeker is well-founded or not must be examined in the context of the situation in the asylum seeker’s country of origin and according to his individual circumstances,” Judge Azar wrote.

Azar added that a document written by experts and attached to the appeal showed that military service in the Eritrean army was a government tool for oppression, and that any draft evasion or desertion was perceived as opposition to the regime. He said this position conformed with reports by the United Nations on human rights in Eritrea, by the U.S. State Department and by the UN refugee agency.

Photo caption: South Tel Aviv residents protest outside Supreme Court Chief Justice Miriam Naor’s home in Jerusalem on August 26, 2017.

Photo credit: Yonatan SIndel/Flash90