Families reunite in Tel Aviv Central Bus Station after release of women and children from detention.
Families reunite in Tel Aviv Central Bus Station after release of women and children from Saharon detention center. Photo by Oren Ziv
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Israel's Interior Ministry on Monday released nine Eritrean women and 10 children, ranging from 18 months to 7-years-old, who had been held at Saharonim Detention Center in the south of the country for the last 8-12 months under the Prevention of Infiltration Law.

The Interior Ministry’s Population, Immigration and Border Authority approved the release after the Be’er Sheva District Court, sitting as the Administrative Affairs Court, ordered that another detained mother and her two daughters be freed.

Be'er Sheva Court President Judge Joseph Elon accepted an appeal to detention by the Hotline for Migrant Workers, which was representing the migrant family, and ruled that the fact that those being held in detention were minors was sufficient humanitarian grounds for ordering their release.

The migrant rights group turned to the Custodial Affairs Court immediately following that ruling to reevaluate the cases of another 10 children and their mothers detained at Saharonim. Within days, the immigration authority ordered the children and their mothers released.

Human rights groups say that as far as they know, 14 children are being held at Saharonim who are not being represented by the nongovernmental organization.

Israel's Prevention of Infiltration Law states that unaccompanied migrant minors can be released from custody. From this, the state has deduced that it can hold minors who accompanied by their parents - and until now the courts have backed this position.

Elon’s ruling last week criticized this interpretation of the law. Regarding the first set of Eritrean girls, he wrote: “Keeping them in custody for an unlimited period of time will without a doubt cause marked damage to their mental and social development.”

Adi Lerner, head of the Hotline for Migrant Workers, said that while the organization welcomed the court's decision, it was troubled by the phenomena of detaining migrant children. "We don’t see why it was necessary to lock up young children for such a long period, or why the state needed the court to see what is clear to everyone,” said Lerner, adding, "Children don’t belong behind bars, no matter what their origins.”

The hotline called on the ministry to immediately release the rest of the children still being held at Saharonim, along with their parents.

The organization also criticized the state's failure to inform the detainees' attorneys or their relatives in Israel of the release. It was the hotline that informed the relatives, some of whom came to the Tel Aviv Central Bus Station to be reunited with family members.

“Although we represent them, they didn’t even tell us [on Monday] that they were releasing them,” said attorney Raya Meiler, of the Hotline. “We heard it as a rumor. They left Saharonim at 6:30 P.M., and in Be’er Sheva they weren’t allowed on the buses because of a problem with their travel vouchers. In the end they got on a bus that made every local stop and got to Tel Aviv after midnight. It was we who contacted the families," Meiler said.