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Groundbreaking Decision: Government position denying Eritrean army deserters eligibility for asylum violates Refugee Convention

The Jerusalem appeals court rejected the Interior Ministry’s legal opinion, according to which deserting from the Eritrean army does not constitute grounds for asylum. The Interior Ministry has rejected thousands of asylum requests submitted by Eritrean citizens based on that legal opinion.

Judge Elad Azar ruled on September 4, 2016 that the Interior Ministry cannot decide not to apply the Refugee Convention on certain asylum seekers with similar claims simply because there are many of them. As per the Refugee Convention, when desertion is considered a political act by the country of origin, unreasonable punishment for it can be regarded as persecution. The court rejected the state’s position, according to which the legal interpretation must consider the “broader implications” of recognizing thousands of asylum seekers as refugees. The judge clarified that the state’s position renders the Refugee Convention meaningless, and that each case should be examined on its own.

The Refugee Rights Clinic at Tel Aviv University and Hotline for Refugees and Migrants filed the appeal in 2014 on behalf of an Eritrean asylum seeker whose request for asylum was based on his desertion from the military and subsequently feeling the country illegally. On the basis of the Ministry’s legal opinion, the Minister of Interior’s advisory committee on refugee affairs had rejected the application at an early stage, without the committee forum reviewing it. The judge ordered his application to now be reconsidered.

“We welcome the court decision, which requires the Interior Ministry to review individual requests for asylum in accordance with the Refugee Convention, without relying on an opinion that was intended to serve as a tool for the systematic rejection of thousands of asylum requests. We call on the Interior Ministry to reevaluate all asylum requests that were rejected on the grounds of the Interior Ministry’s errant opinion,” said Attorney Anat Ben Dor from the Refugee Rights Clinic at Tel Aviv University.

Attorney Reut Michaeli, Executive Director of the Hotline for Refugees and Migrants said, “Unfortunately legal intervention was required yet again to ensure that the Interior Ministry implement the dictates of the Refugee Convention, to which Israel is committed, and not try to find convoluted means to bypass them. In all Western countries the percentage of asylum seekers from Eritrea who are recognized as refugees is high. Just recently another UN report revealed the torture, slavery conditions, and methodical violation of human rights within the Eritrean military and throughout Eritrea. We hope that now Israel will finally begin to check asylum requests in accordance with international standards.”

Read the hotline’s report about the asylum system failures (published December 2014)
Read the full decision (Hebrew)