Court Recognizes African Military Deserters as Asylum Seekers

YERUSHALAYIM -

An Israeli court has ruled that Eritreans who came to Israel in order to escape military service at home have legitimate grounds to apply for asylum, a decision which could change the status of thousands of illegal migrants.

“There is a well-founded fear of persecution because of political opinion ascribed to him by the authorities in his country as a result of his desertion from military service,” the decision said, in reference to a deserter from the Eritrean military who fled to Israel.

Many migrants tell of slavery-like conditions in the Eritrean army. The Hotline for Refugees and Migrants has reports produced by the U.N. and other bodies which confirm brutal conditions in military service in Eritrea.

It was not clear whether or not the state would continue to appeal the ruling, which was handed down by a special Yerushalayim appeals court for refugee issues. In the event that the new ruling is upheld, it could force the government to review the status of many of the 28,000 Eritreans in Israel.

Until now, the Interior Ministry has generally rejected applications by Eritreans fleeing the military for refugee status, on the grounds that it does not satisfy the definition of being “persecuted,” which would entitle them to asylum.