An increasing social issue in Israel this year has been the influx of African asylum seekers into the country in recent years (see the race riot in Tel Aviv in 24 May 2012). It is estimated that there are around 60,000 African asylum seekers in Israel with majority of these, numbering around 40,000, being from the North East African country of Eritrea (Stats from Jerusalem Post). It appears that Israel is making moves on attempting to deport Eritreans back to their homeland that could create a wave of social protests in a country that has been untouched by the Social Revolutions of the Middle East. But why did Eritreans leave in the first place?
Eritrea is under a dictatorship headed by President Isaias Afewerki, and under his rule has been likened to ”the North Korea of Africa”. The list of abuses in the country is long; no democratic elections have been held since 1993, all citizens, men and women, are required to serve in the military from the age of 18 until they are 40, grave human rights violations have regularly occurred since 1993 (including: arbitrary detention, torture, summary executions, forced labour and restrictions to freedom of movement) and the country ranked bottom (179 out of 179 countries) for press freedom according to Reporters Without Borders.
Despite the damning figures, this week (on June 25), Mr. Tesfamariam Tekeste, the Eritrean ambassador to Israel was invited to speak at the Israeli Parliament (Knesset) about Eritreans in Israel. In the meeting Tekeste deflected many criticisms of his country including questions asked about the persecution of returnees to Eritrea, stating that only those who had skipped mandatory military service would be ‘prosecuted’ (that would be everyone who left then). The meeting concluded with recommendation that a Knesset committee would visit Eritrea to assess whether Israel can return Eritrean migrants there.
This is a worrying development for asylum seekers in Israel, as the Knesset meeting came 3 weeks after Ambassador Tekeste met with Israel’s Minister of Interior, Eli Yashai, to discuss the possibly of returning Eritreans back to their country. If this course of action is continued, the social revolutions that have been spreading through the Middle East could reach Israel. With recent deportations of South Sudanese Asylum Seekers going relatively calmly, if moves are taken against the Eritreans, it is highly likely that large amounts of violent resistance will occur. It appears Israel has forgotten its roots with the Eritrean issue. For a country based on those who have been persecuted, even considering the possibility of returning people to face persecution should be a troubling thought for Israel.
J Robinson – Twitter: @jprobinsons