Report: It’s safe to return, Eritrean FM tells migrants in Israel

Osman Saleh Mohammed urges his countrymen in Israel to come home, according to a TV news report.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

The foreign minister of Eritrea is encouraging his fellow countrymen who left the African country over the last decade and long to return that it is now safe to do so due to the recent signing of a peace treaty between Eritrea and Ethiopia, Channel 20 news reported Sunday.

“In this area, there is a definite change for the better,” the report quoted him as saying. “The whole area is calm and there is total quiet. We have good relations with the governments of Ethiopia, Somalia and South Sudan.

Therefore, said the minister, “the Eritreans can return to their country at any moment. There is no problem.”

“If, following the agreement, the duty to enlist is canceled, Israel will be able to return the infiltrators to Eritrea, which is great news for the residents of south Tel Aviv,” Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked said at a Jewish Home party conference following the announcement the truce between the two countries in July.

According to figures published in Ha’aretz, there are 26,801 Eritrean asylum seekers left in Israel. This would amount to approximately half of the infiltrators from Africa who remain after having illegally crossed into the country from Egypt before the government finished building a fence along its southern border in 2015.

The overwhelmingly male population claimed that they were escaping open-ended conscription in the Eritrean army, which was fighting a long-term war with neighboring Ethiopia.

A UN commission of inquiry considered the military service tantamount to slavery, and for many years the European Union, the United States and other Western countries let many escapees from that country stay; most were even granted refugee status.

An Israeli court in February ruled that desertion from the Eritrean army is grounds for receiving refugee status in the country.

The government has had some success in getting a few thousand migrants to leave by assisting them in arranging travel documents, paying them $3,500, and giving them a free flight out of the country.

Now that the leaders of the two warring countries have signed a peace agreement in July, ending the 20-year-long conflict, the welcomed move “is accelerating reconsideration of the [deportation] issue,” an Interior Ministry official told Ha’aretz.

“If there’s peace, the main reasons why Eritreans demand recognition as refugees – desertion from the army and draft-dodging – will be less relevant,” he said. “We’re waiting to see how other countries act.”