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מרכז לקהילה האפריקאית בירושלים

What About Eritrea? Director's Note, July 2017

This month Israel announced that it would grant permanent status to 200 Sudanese asylum seekers from the Darfur region. While defending the decision in the Knesset Interior and Environment committee, Interior Minister Arie Deri acknowledged that “asylum seekers from Sudan came to Israel in order to escape persecution in their home country.”

Although it is generally excepted that this decision was just a cosmetic, arbitrary solution and that Deri could change his mind at any given moment, I do see a very, very small ray of light that there is some, however small, recognition that what is happening in Sudan is a genocide and that there is no way that these refugees can be deported back there.

If so, then the next question we must ask is what about the Eritreans?

Jerusalem District Court Judge, Nava Ben-Or, ruled in January "that desertion from the Eritrean army is not in itself a valid reason for receiving refugee status in Israel." A decision welcomed by Interior Minister Arie Deri “This is an important and significant ruling that confirms the sovereign right of the state to determine its migration policies. It’s good to know the voice of sanity can still be heard in our midst,” he said.

So, to enable a real voice of sanity to be heard, I would like to point out a few points about Eritrea and why the Eritrean’s in Israel are requesting asylum.

President Isaias Afewerki a cruel, tyrant dictator has been ruling Eritrea since its independence in 1993. a one-party state along nationalist lines was established and all further political activity was banned, there have been no elections since.

In its 2014 Press Freedom Index, Reporters Without Borders ranked the media environment in Eritrea at the very bottom of a list of 178 countries, just below totalitarian North Korea. There is no foreign press in Eritrea and very little real information succeeds in getting out.

“the Government has created and sustained repressive systems to control, silence and isolate individuals in the country, depriving them of their fundamental freedoms. Information collected on people’s activities, their supposed intentions and even conjectured thoughts is used to rule through fear in a country where individuals are routinely arbitrarily arrested and detained, tortured, disappeared or extra-judicially executed. The commission also describes how, under the pretext of defending the integrity of the State and ensuring its self-sufficiency, Eritreans are subject to systems of national service and forced labour that effectively abuse, exploit and enslave them for indefinite periods of time.”

The report goes on to state “Faced with a seemingly hopeless situation they feel powerless to change, hundreds of thousands of Eritreans are fleeing their country. In desperation, they resort to deadly escape routes through deserts and neighbouring war-torn countries and across dangerous seas in search of safety. They risk capture, torture and death at the hands of ruthless human traffickers. To ascribe their decision to leave solely to economic reasons is to ignore the dire situation of human rights in Eritrea and the very real suffering of its people. Eritreans are fleeing severe human rights violations in their country and are in need of international protection.”

Need I say more? For me the answer is simple, Eritrean’s as Sudanese and all other people fleeing war and persecution deserve our protection and the right to refugee status.

According to The UN Global Trends Report on World Refugee Day, there are 65.6 million displaced people worldwide, with children under 18 making up just over half the refugee population.

This is an astounding number!! But here in Israel there are barely 40,000. A number I believe that with some foresight, planning and humanitarian values we can surely handle.

~ Josie Mendelson

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