Saharonim detention facility
Afriacn migrants in the Saharonim detention facility. Photo by Eliahu Hershkovitz
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A report by lawyers who were authorized by the Israel Bar Association to audit conditions at Saharonim prison in southern Israel, which is used as a detention center for African asylum seekers, details numerous problems with the facility. The report’s authors say construction of the facility did not comply with the approved blueprints, that the actual amount of living space per inmate is less than planned and that some cells lack toilets.

The authors of the report included attorneys Rachel Erel, Shelly Vanknin Adam and Oded Feller, director of the citizenship and residency program of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel. It was compiled after the authors visited Saharonim several times.

Saharonim comprises three separate areas that were built and occupied in three stages. Inmates in Saharonim A live in tents, with 16 beds in each. Saharonim B contains cells without toilets. The report describes the harsh conditions at the facility, noting that detainees have little protection from the weather, which is very hot during the day in the summer, and very cold at night and in winter. Only Wing 9, which houses women and children, is heated. The bathroom facilities in Saharonim A are located in trailer homes and are dirty.

During the attorneys’ visits, children were among the detainees. Children up to 12 lived in Wing 9, a stone building with cells that have barred metal doors and barred windows. According to the report, women detained there complained about a shortage of formula for toddlers, said pediatricians visit just twice a week and that neither vitamins nor childhood immunizations are provided. Their main complaint was that the facility was not meant for children, and they should not be held there at all.

In a response, the Israel Prison Service said the criticism in the report dates to May 2013 and that the agency’s arrangements “for the detention of infiltrators” underwent drastic changes since then, in part due to changes to the law. “Only after seven months of pleading was the report submitted to the Israel Prison Service for review and comment. Our request for an extension of the deadline for submitting a response was not answered, for some reason. All that was left for us to do was to wonder about the urgency with which the report was published, and assume that its publication was meant as a publicity tactic. As such, we have no intention of responding to it, and most of its findings have already become irrelevant.”