Israeli immigration and law enforcement officials have trouble dealing with the African migrants and refugees who steal across the border with Egypt. These migrants must be handled with sensitivity and compassion, something the authorities have not achieved, either due to racism, politics ("concern for the state's Jewish identity") or bureaucratic imperviousness.
On Tuesday, Haaretz reported that refugee children who come to Israel with or without their parents - sometimes their parents die along the arduous route from Africa - are held in Saharonim Prison in the south along with adult prisoners. Detaining children there violates state regulations requiring the separation of minors and adults, trained psychological staff and educational activities.
The Justice Ministry's legal aid department, which represents the "unaccompanied minors," those in Israel without their parents, determined that they are being held in Saharonim illegally. A department representative who toured the facility was horrified to find that children over 3 are held in tents and prefab homes with adult detainees and in overcrowded conditions, "and may therefore be exposed to harassment and dangers."
The facility is not equipped to deal with children and youth and lacks the appropriate psychological staff and educational activities. The Givon facility in central Israel, where most minor refugees are held, does have a separate wing, although conditions are harsh.
The complaint about the disgraceful treatment didn't come from aid organizations this time, but from a state entity that deals with refugee rights and is now demanding that the responsible authorities find an appropriate place to hold these minors. They are neither criminals nor terrorists, but victims of persecution - people in distress who do not belong in jail but in a suitable facility that can treat them appropriately and provide for their needs, such as a boarding school.
The Israel Prison Service's explanations that the minors were held temporarily with adults at Saharonim due to a shortage of places does not suffice. The refugee children deserve humane treatment like any other person, even if they entered Israel without a visa, and the government is obligated to see to their welfare. Forcing harsh detention conditions on them, while subverting procedures, is not the way to handle illegal immigration from Africa.
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