Eritrean infiltrators in Tel Aviv
Eritrean infiltrators in Tel AvivTomer Neuberg/Flash 90

A special research delegation of the Danish Immigration Service (UDL) went to Ethiopia and Eritrea to clarify the political realities in the region in terms of "refugee status" for immigrants illegally leaving Eritrea, and last month published its precedent setting results.

The report, released November 14 and entitled "Eritrea - Drivers and Root Causes of Emigration, National Service and the Possibility of Return," removed the blanket asylum granted to Eritreans in Denmark.

In research based on diplomatic sources, NGOs, and witness testimony from within and without Eritrea, the report found that there is no true danger posed to army deserters who escape forced service, and who in nearly all cases are not given any sort of punishment.

Aside from Denmark, the report has great implications for Israel where tens of thousands of Eritrean and Sudanese illegal infiltrators have made their way into the country and drastically raised the crime rates, as the Knesset struggles with the High Court to find a way to combat the phenomenon.

While leftist organizations have claimed the infiltrators are refugees, figures presented by the state have shown the overwhelming majority of them are not refugees, but rather work migrants breaking the law in a search of greater job opportunities. Those figures are backed by the Danish report, which gives credence to the appraisal that infiltrators do not have refugee status.

Harsh punishments?

In the UDL report, a source from an international organization within Eritrea declared that in the worst case scenario, an Eritrean who left the country without permission will be arrested "for several days up to one week," and then sent back to army service.

Many sources cited in the research reported that those who pay a 2% tax of their earnings can receive a passport and return to the country without any sanctions for deserting the army, or illegally leaving the country. In some instances those returning weren't even required to return to army service.

Aside from activist opponents of the regime, the Eritrean government views deserters as immigrants leaving for financial reasons and not traitors, and doesn't try to pursue or punish them, according to the report.

The report noted that many Eritreans leave and return to the country on a constant basis, and many instances were described of Eritreans leaving without permission and returning for visits - including a visit by a group of 400 Eritreans with Swedish passports who had left without a permit and were stopped at the airport. They were allowed to return to Sweden without any problems.

In another case described in the report, a group of several hundred Eritreans were returned to the country by force by Egypt after leaving illegally and trying to infiltrate into Israel. Back in Eritrea, they were arrested for a mere two weeks and returned to their families.

Several diplomatic sources in Eritrea were cited by the report saying that the regime has changed its policy and no longer prevents immigration by its citizens. They reported that in the last two years there is no attempt to prevent people from leaving or returning, as long as immigrants pay the required taxes at the embassies.

UDL noted on international reports which claim that up to 10,000 people are imprisoned in Eritrea, and based on the research findings said the reports are "difficult to harmonize with the reality on the ground."

Responding to criticism, UDL's vice director Lykke Sørensen told the Danish newspaper Berlingske "the report stands. It is based on credible sources within Eritrea, showing that some of our ideas about the situation in the country were not fully up-to-date.”

An Israeli-European coalition to return infiltrators

Yonatan Yakubovich, head of the NGO Israeli Immigration Policy Center's publicity department, said the report has profound meaning for Israel.

"Despite the fact that a large part of what is described in the report was already known from testimony by Eritreans, this is the first time that an official body in a European country gives it official confirmation based on diplomatic sources," said Yakubovich.

He continued "unfortunately, for years the public opinion in Israel was stuffed with reports written by radical organizations, most of them from testimony of the infiltrators themselves."

"The Israeli government needs to cooperation with the Danish government and other countries like Norway to quickly advance arrangements to return the infiltrators from Eritrea to their land," said Yakubovich. "Until then, the ban on employing them and negating the incentives to their continued presence in Israel will bring the voluntary return of most infiltrators."