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An unprecedented decision in a Israeli Tribunal: Ministry of Interior’s legal opinion that army desertion isn’t grounds for refugee status violates the Refugee Convention

The Jerusalem appeals tribunal overruled the Ministry of Interior’s legal opinion, according to which Eritreans who deserted from the country’s army are not entitled to refugee status. Based on this opinion, thousands of Eritrean’s applications had been rejected

The Judge, Elad Azar, noted in the ruling given yesterday (September 4) that desertion from the Eritrean army can in fact provide grounds for refugee status, if it is seen as a political act by the country of origin and a severe punishment can follow. The court also rejected the state’s claim regarding the “consequences” of acknowledging a refugee cause that will allow granting asylum to thousands of Eritreans, saying that this legal interpretation does not comply with the Refugee Convention or the rules of Israeli administrative law.

The appeal was filed in 2014 on behalf of an Eritrean asylum seeker by the Tel Aviv University Refugee Rights Clinic and the Hotline for Refugees and Migrants. His asylum request was based on him deserting from the Eritrean army and then escaping the country, in violation of Eritrean law. 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.

Attorney Anat Ben-Dor of the Refugee Rights Clinic, who submitted the appeal: “We welcome the Tribunal’s decision, which requires the Ministry of Interior to discuss individual applications for asylum in accordance with the rules of the Refugee Convention, without relying on an opinion that was meant to be a tool for systematically rejecting thousands of asylum requests. Now the Ministry should reconsider all the applications that were rejected on the basis of this opinion.”

Attorney Reut Michaeli, Executive Director of the Hotline for Refugees and Migrants: “It’s regrettable that judicial intervention was needed so that the Ministry of Interior would apply the rules of the Refugee Convention to which Israel is committed. In every Western country large proportions of Eritrean asylum seekers are accepted as refugees, and just recently, another UN report revealed the torture, slavery conditions and systematic human rights violations that take place in the Eritrean army, and in the country in general. We hope that now Israel’s asylum system will finally begin to operate in compliance with international standards”.