State Refuses Residency for Eritrean Man Married to Israeli Woman

Eli Yishai

State Refuses Residency for Eritrean Man Married to Israeli Woman

Population authority officials insist on a clean criminal record from Eritrean army deserter, despite flexibility in regulations.

By Eli Ashkenazi | Haaretz  Aug. 14, 2013

The Population and Immigration Authority is refusing to grant permanent resident status to a citizen of Eritrea who is married to an Israeli woman, until he provides a document from Eritrea proving he has no criminal record. The Eritrean government is refusing to provide the document, since the man is an army deserter who fled the country.

The guidelines for determining the status of foreign citizens who are married to Israelis stipulate that, even if the applicant cannot provide such a document, permanent status can be granted. Nevertheless, The authority is standing firm in its refusal.

The couple has a two-year-old daughter, who is an Israeli citizen, and the applicant’s wife is in advanced stages of pregnancy.

In a suit filed with the Jerusalem District Court by attorneys Tal Hasin and Oded Feller, who work for the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), said the couple has asked the court to instruct the Minister of the Interior to determined the status of the man, “T”, without the requested document.

“The applicants have repeatedly told the respondent that the claimant is a deserter from the Eritrean army and that it is impossible for someone who fled the army of a totalitarian dictatorship to obtain such a document. Yet, again and again, despite regulations established by the respondent authority itself, which often recognizes situations in which it is impossible to obtain criminal records from countries of origin, the application is denied without any pertinent response,” said the lawyers.

T arrived in Israel six years ago after fleeing Eritrea. Upon arrival in Israel, he was imprisoned for two months, and was released on the basis of a letter from the UN Refugee Agency supporting his application for asylum in Israel. He later received a temporary residence and a work permit. In 2008, he met his wife “M” (full names known, but withheld, by Haaretz), who came to Israel from Ethiopia 16 years ago. The two were married three years ago, when the wife registered a civil marriage in Paraguay, so that they could be registered as a married couple in Israel upon her return.

In June 2011, the couple set out to formally determine T’s status in Israel. They were asked to provide a series of documents, most of which they were able to obtain – including his Eritrean passport, birth certificate and a certification of bachelorhood. The Eritrean authorities would not provide a clean criminal record and a relative of T’s in Asmara, Eritrea’s capital, was warned by police not to approach them again on behalf of a deserter. The couple’s explanations were of no avail and the Population Registry refused to give T’ residence status.

SIx months after the initial application was filed, the authority asked T to close his petition for asylum as a precondition for dealing with his status as M’s partner. He did so in January 2012 and promptly received a letter requiring him to leave the country within 14 days. His temporary residence and work permits were revoked. Requests to regain these permits were denied, and he remained without legal status in Israel.

It took a year-and-a-half and pressure from ACRI for the authority to renew his permit. However, the the authority would not budge from its demand that T produce the police record from Eritrea as a condition for obtaining permanent status in Israel.

Attorney Dotan Berman, representing the population authority, said that the insistence on obtaining a criminal record is reasonable. Even though the situation in Eritrea is “far from satisfactory”, the Authority should not have to relinquish its demand for a criminal record from that country, he said in a statement. Since T’s work permit has been reinstated, he is in no danger of being deported and can provide for his family with “minimal damage” to himself and his family, Berman said.

In the suit filed with the District Court, attorneys Hasin and Feller argued that the damage to the family is not minimal. “Employers are reluctant to take in someone with an uncertain employment future. The applicant will at best only be able to find menial work, with limited contribution to the family’s welfare”, they wrote. “In the absence of even temporary residence status, the applicant has no social benefits and is not insured under the state medical insurance system. He cannot obtain a permanent driving license. The couple does not enjoy the full benefits given by the National Insurance Institute nor can they obtain a mortgage.”

In a conversation with Haaretz, M’ said that she would have expected the state to allow her to live with her chosen mate. “It’s really sad. You supposedly live in a state that’s considered modern. The whole world knows that an army deserter can’t provide documents. I’m sure he would be taken in by other countries”.

The Population and Immigration Authority declined to answer specific questions posed by Haaretz, saying that “the issue would be examined on its merits as part of the legal process” and that the authority would give its response in court.”