Saharonim detention facility
Saharonim detention facility in southern Israel. Photo by Eliyahu Hershkovitz
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In an attempt to end the hunger strike by Eritrean migrants being held at the Saharonim detention center, the Israel Prison Service on Sunday began transferring them to other wings in the prison, or to other facilities entirely.

The Prison Service moved about 344 detainees - some to other wings in Saharonim and others to prisons in the south, including the Ketziot Prison near the Egyptian border and the Eshel Prison in Be'er Sheva.

The IPS said that force was not necessary to transfer the detainees, although some passively resisted the move.

This morning 113 prisoners resumed eating, the IPS said. But 230 people from another section joined the strike and refused to accept the breakfast served to them.

More than 300 migrants have been striking for about a week in protest against their prolonged imprisonment in accordance with the Prevention of Infiltration Law. Last Saturday some of the prisoners began sending back meals, and during the week many others joined them. In effect, the strike included all those held in sections 3 and 4 of the prison.

Last week, one of the Eritrean detainees told Haaretz that three inmates have required medical attention. He said the detainees would continue their strike until the government examined their asylum applications and responded to them. The Eritrean also said that the prison management was preventing hunger strikers from using the phone. “They have no communication with the outside,” he said.

Amnesty International Israel and Hotline for Migrant Workers have received similar reports.

According to the migrant, the prison management tried to persuade the hunger-strikers to desist, but the migrant with whom Haaretz spoke said they refused. “We need freedom. We can’t stay in this situation,” he said.

Some 1,400 migrants currently detained have submitted asylum applications in recent months. About 10 days ago, during a visit to the Saharonim facility by the Knesset Committee on Foreign Workers, the representative of the Population and Immigration Authority, Inbal Mashash, reported that the state has so far rejected 17 such applications, almost all from Eritreans. However, the state is not repatriating them for fear their lives would be in danger.

According to the law, if the state does not respond to an asylum-seeker’s request within nine months, the Custody Tribunal has the authority to release him or her.