Israel using technicality to deport Eritrean asylum-seekers to Ethiopia

24 Oct

Under UN rules, Eritreans are automatically entitled to asylum, whereas Ethiopians have no such collective asylum right.

The Interior Ministry is deporting Eritrean asylum-seekers to Ethiopia even though it admits it cannot guarantee their safety there, a ministry document obtained by Haaretz shows.

An Eritrean migrant in Rehovot.

Under UN rules, Eritreans are automatically entitled to asylum, whereas Ethiopians have no such collective asylum right. In 2003, however, Ethiopia passed a law granting citizenship to anyone whose mother or father was an Ethiopian citizen. That provision applies to many Eritreans, since Eritrea split off from Ethiopia in 1993.

The ministry’s Population Authority has therefore been deporting some Eritreans to Ethiopia on the grounds that they could obtain citizenship there. Yet the document obtained by Haaretz casts doubt on whether the new law is really being applied, and consequently, on whether Eritreans will really be safe there.

The interior and foreign ministries are currently investigating this issue, but the Population Authority hasn’t informed the courts of this when seeking permission to deport Eritreans to Ethiopia.

In July, the ministry’s advisory committee on refugees met and discussed the 2003 law and its subsidiary legislation. But according to the minutes of this meeting, the option of Eritreans obtaining Ethiopian citizenship is currently only “theoretical,” and the interior and foreign ministries are still trying “to understand whether these laws are being applied.”

The minutes also quote Danny Hass, head of the Interior Ministry’s research department, as saying, “this is a sensitive issue due to the war between Ethiopia and Eritrea, and it’s hard to get answers about what happens to those refugees who return once they land at the airport.”

Yet none of this is mentioned in the briefs the ministry files in court. In response to one Eritrean’s petition against his deportation, for instance, the ministry wrote simply that “even if the petitioner lost his Ethiopian citizenship at some point, he can, under Article 3 of the new Ethiopian citizenship law, reacquire Ethiopian citizenship if one of his parents (in this case, the petitioner’s mother ) is Ethiopian.”

Yonatan Berman, outgoing legal advisor for the Hotline for Migrant Workers and one of the attorneys representing that petitioner, said, “the minutes constitute evidence that the Interior Ministry is concealing information that could have led to different conclusions about the legal possibility of deporting people.”

Attorney Yuval Livnat of Tel Aviv University‘s refugee rights clinic termed the minutes “extremely disturbing. The Interior Ministry tells the courts over and over that Ethiopians of Eritrean origin can return to Ethiopia without fear, but in private it admits there’s no certainty regarding the treatment that awaits them.”

In another case, Judge Rami Amir noted two other problems with the ministry’s position. First, he said, neither the Justice Ministry’s international department nor any expert on Ethiopian law has confirmed that the new law means what the Interior Ministry says it does. Moreover, another article in the law states that anyone with citizenship in another country shall be viewed as if he had given up his Ethiopian citizenship, unless he waives his foreign citizenship within a year of reaching his majority. That would seem to preclude most Eritrean asylum-seekers from acquiring Ethiopian citizenship under this law.

The Interior Ministry responded that it stands by its right to deport any Eritrean who has or could acquire citizenship in any other country, including Ethiopia. The fact that an asylum seeker also has Eritrean citizenship “does not entitle him to immunity” from deportation, it said.

Haaretz

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