ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 145

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Explainer: Eritrean asylum seekers in Israel

Eritrean asylum seekers protest against the regime in Tel Aviv, September 2, 2023 (Itai Ron/Flash90)
Eritrean asylum seekers protest against the regime in Tel Aviv, September 2, 2023 (Itai Ron/Flash90)

Eritreans make up the majority of the more than 30,000 African asylum-seekers in Israel.

They say they fled danger and persecution from a country known as the “North Korea of Africa” with forced lifetime military conscription in slavery-like conditions.

President Isaias Afwerki, 77, has led Eritrea since 1993, taking power after the country won independence from Ethiopia in a long guerrilla war. There have been no elections, there’s no free media and exit visas are required. Many young people are forced into military service with no end date, human rights groups and United Nations experts say.

The nation on the Horn of Africa has one of the world’s worst human rights records, and the asylum-seekers fear death if they were to return.

Although migrants who are supporters of the Eritrean regime, and therefore not under threat of persecution, in theory do not quality for refugee status under UN guidelines, Israeli authorities do not distinguish between asylum seekers based on their political affiliations.

In Israel, they face an uncertain future as the state makes attempts to make life difficult and deport them. Many members of the hardline government and its supporters refer to them as “infiltrators” who are in Israel as economic migrants.

But despite the struggle to stay, in often squalid conditions, some say they enjoy some freedoms they never would have at home — like the right to protest.

Saturday’s violence is not isolated — last month, as Eritrea marked 30 years of independence, festivals held by Eritrea’s government and diaspora in Europe and North America were attacked by exiles. The Eritrean government dismissed them as “asylum scum.”

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