About 30 African children who infiltrated into Israel and are being held at the Givon prison in Ramle, are being detained under inappropriate conditions, says the Justice Ministry's legal aid division. The refugee children were taken to Ramle after another detention facility where they were held was closed.

The conditions at Givon are harsher than those at Michal detention facility, where they had been held. There is no air-conditioning, and many of the children have complained of hunger. There is apparently a lack of age-appropriate activity, which they had been given at the previous facility.

Many of the children reportedly have not had a physical examination to determine their ages, as required by international convention. Such an examination could result in the release of some of the children; legally a child under the age of 12 may not be detained. Without medical examinations, there is also concern the detainees may have undetected AIDS, jaundice or tuberculosis, endangering anyone who comes in contact with them.

"This is a case of children who are in a prison for criminals," a source at the legal aid division said. "[The children] call us and express their great hardship."

The source said one of the youngsters threatened to commit suicide, and instead of being treated as a minor in his condition should have been, the Israel Prisons Service put him in hand and leg cuffs. The source also said the prison social worker, who is supposed to be in regular contact with the children, said she deals with adult prisoners and is not equipped to deal with the children.

In response, the Interior Ministry said the Michal detention facility was "found by the Population and Immigration Authority to be inappropriate to receive minors, to say the least. Therefore, an effort was made to transfer them immediately to the Prisons Service. We are convinced that the service is doing everything necessary according to the law as relates to proper detention. Examinations regarding the children's ages were indeed delayed, as a result of the [recent] transfer of authority from the Immigration Police to the Population and Immigration Authority. The ministry said that without any connection to this inquiry, medical examinations will begin tomorrow.

The Prisons Service said that "following the decision to close the Michal facility, the minors were transferred to Givon, where they benefit from social worker care, educational facilities, appropriate food and so forth."