By Ilan Lior | for haaretz.com,
Interior Minister Silvan Shalom said Monday that Eritreans have to do military service for 18 months in their native land, contradicting recent reports by the United Nations and U.S. State Department.
Israeli advocates on behalf of Eritrean asylum seekers have cited lengthy mandatory military service as a factor motivating them to flee their homeland, but Shalom rejected such claims.
“I have met with the Eritrean ambassador to Israel. It turns out there is no 20-year draft,” the interior minister told Army Radio. “The entire draft obligation is for just 18 months,” he added. “Any woman with a child is not required to be drafted. Any woman over 28 is not required to be drafted. Any man over 42 is not required to be drafted,” he said.
Asked whether he considered the Eritrean ambassador a reliable source on this issue, Shalom replied, “Of course. Who [else] would provide the information?”
The interior minister took exception when his interviewer noted that Eritrea is “a dictatorial and violent country,” responding, “You apparently don’t know what is happening in the country. Anyone returning there has no problem. That’s the first thing. And the second thing – anyone who has left with a passport and flown from Eritrea to Cairo has left freely.”
According to the ministry’s Population, Immigration and Border Authority, there are some 33,000 Eritrean nationals in Israel. The Israeli government has applied considerable pressure on both them and Sudanese migrants to return to their homelands, despite the [alleged] dangers they would seemingly face.
Israel has also offered them the opportunity to be flown to Uganda or Rwanda, despite many reports that they don’t receive official status there and aren’t accorded basic rights. In recent years, 1,058 Eritreans have return to their homeland, while 1,980 have gone to Uganda or Rwanda.