HIAS Israel Statement on Protests at Eritrean Embassy Event

HIAS Israel is deeply pained by the violence and vandalism which erupted at the protest in South Tel Aviv Saturday and hopes for a speedy recovery for all those who were injured. We, alongside the vast majority of the asylum-seeking community, do not condone the violence that took place.

As an organization that works directly with the Eritrean asylum-seeking community in Israel, we believe that the context that led up to Saturday’s events is crucial.

Eritreans living in Israel fled a brutal dictatorial regime that violently persecutes, tortures, and imprisons citizens for any expression of opposition. Eritreans are subjected to forced army conscription for decades, in slavery-like conditions, and live their lives deprived of basic freedoms. Anyone who speaks out against the dictatorship is labeled as an opponent. The majority of Eritreans in Israel fled persecution by this oppressive government, and still live in fear of the Eritrean regime and those who support it. They fear for their loved ones back home and are unable to be reunited with them due to their lack of status in Israel.

While across the globe, Eritreans are widely recognized as refugees owing to these conditions, the State of Israel has refused to offer this recognition, or even provide a fair asylum process, even though many Eritrean asylum seekers have resided in Israel for over a decade. Israel has rejected 1,900 asylum requests and left 8,000 pending to this day. Just a handful of the thousands of asylum seekers from Eritrea in Israel have been recognized as refugees, far below the global average of 81%. “These statistics point to the deeply flawed system for assessing asylum requests fairly and legally, and as such, HIAS Israel is intervening via legal proceedings to address this injustice,” said HIAS Israel Country Director Sivan Carmel. “Residing in Israel for years on end without basic rights has made asylum seekers particularly vulnerable, living with ongoing instability and uncertainty.”

The State of Israel chose to allow the Eritrean Embassy to hold a public event in support of the regime despite the warnings of Eritrean community leaders who were concerned about the tensions the event would create and implored the police to prevent it from taking place. Similar events in other countries have been marred by violence and some have been cancelled by authorities.

In response to Saturday’s events, politicians have rushed to call for the deportation of those involved. It is important to remember, however, that these are asylum seekers whose deportation is prohibited, as Israel has recognized its obligation under international law not to deport Eritreans. Instead, their asylum requests must be examined fairly.

“We are saddened by Saturday’s events, together with members of the refugee community who are working to deescalate the situation, and we call on the Israeli government to fairly examine asylum requests moving forward,” Carmel said.

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