Israeli City Mobilizes to Keep Asylum Seekers Out

As state begins releasing 1,178 asylum seekers from Holot detention facility, Arad Mayor places municipal policing and inspection vans at city entrances to stop migrants entering.

The southern Israeli city of Arad.
The southern Israeli city of Arad. Ofer Vaknin

The mayor of the southern Israeli city of Arad has placed municipal policing and inspection vans at entrances to the city in an attempt to prevent the entry of migrants who are being released form the detention facility in Holot.

The state began releasing 1,178 Eritrean and Sudanese asylum seekers from the open detention facility in Holot on Tuesday. Most have little money, and little idea where they'll go next.

On his Facebook page, Arad Mayor Nissan Ben Hamo expressed his concern that due to a prohibition on the migrants’ living or working in Tel Aviv and Eilat, asylum seekers would come to Arad. He clarified that he would not allow this to happen. There are currently several hundred asylum seekers living in Arad.

“This morning, following a decision by the High Court of Justice, several hundred infiltrators were released from the detention center, and more will soon be released” he wrote.

“The decision of the Interior Minister to prevent their entry into Tel Aviv and Eilat raises the probability that these people will move to cities in the southern part of the country. It’s important to clarify that no transportation was organized for them so that buses filled with released detainees are unlikely to reach any one place. I met the Interior Minister yesterday and expressed my displeasure at his decision to prefer one city over another – I told him that I’m determined not to allow infiltrators to reach Arad.”

He updated his page Tuesday: “As of this morning I instructed municipal inspection and policing teams to reinforce their presence at entry points to the city, including the central bus station and throughout the city.” He also appealed to residents: “I ask everyone to maintain alertness and report unusual incidents, but to leave us to handle the situation. We have no concrete information at present about their possible arrival in Arad but we’re ready for any scenario. If we have to strengthen our struggle on this issue I won’t hesitate to call on all residents to join in the fight for the city’s wellbeing.”

Arad Mayor Nissan Ben Hamo
Eliyahu Hershkovich

About half of the asylum seekers being released from Holot will be released Tuesday and the other half on Wednesday, which is the last possible day the state may release them according to a High Court of Justice ruling issued on August 11.

By Wednesday night, Holot will contain only 587 asylum seekers, all of whom have been there for less than a year – the maximum period the court permitted.  But over the coming months, the Interior Ministry plans to send thousands of additional asylum seekers there.

Anuar Suliman, 36, an asylum seeker from Darfur, who is slated to be released from Holot Wednesday after spending a year and a half imprisoned there, said he would go to Arad once released.

"Why Arad? I had a friend in Holot, I can go there and there I can take care of myself," Suliman said.

"We won't bother the people of Arad, we won't bother anyone. It is important for us to keep the peace. The mayor of Arad has no need to fear. Most of the people who come to Arad come to a place where there is a certain job. People want to start from a place where there is work. It is better that a person doesn't sleep in the streets but that they work in an organized job."