1,000 Asylum Seekers Protest at Detention Center in Negev

Demonstrators demanding recognition as refugees.

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About 1,000 African asylum seekers demonstrated Monday afternoon opposite the open detention facility in Holot, to protest the government’s policy toward them.

The protesters demanded that the government cancel the law that allows them to be held at the facility in southern Israel, release everyone currently held there and recognize them as refugees.

The demonstrators, who came from the center of the country and paid for the trip themselves, stood outside the facility shouting slogans such as “No more jail!” “We’re refugees, not infiltrators!” and “Free the prisoners!”

But though protest leaders had ordered 100 buses, turnout was much smaller than they had hoped. The organizers said many asylum seekers probably feared being fired if they missed work to attend the demonstration.

While the protest was in progress, a bus carrying asylum seekers from Eilat, who had been ordered to report to Holot Monday, arrived at the facility. Over the past few weeks, the Population, Immigration and Border Authority has ordered some 3,200 asylum seekers currently living in urban centers to report to Holot within a month.

According to the Israel Prison Service, as of Sunday night some 700 African asylum seekers had been ordered to relocate to the facility. Of these, around 80 failed to show up, or left and didn’t return.

Holot inmates are forbidden to work, and they are required to report for roll call three times a day. Between the hours of 10 P.M. and 6 A.M., they are required to remain in the facility. Otherwise, they are free to leave, but they must return for every roll call. Anyone who fails to obey these conditions, or to report to Holot when summoned, can by law be imprisoned in the closed facility at Saharonim instead.

The state has promised to provide Holot residents with food, places to sleep, and health and welfare services. But the residents complain that there isn’t enough food; the rooms are freezing cold; and there aren’t enough warm clothes or medicine. They also say they are subjected to heavy pressure to leave Israel and return to their countries of origin in exchange for a $3,500 grant.

Protesters at the Holot Detention Center, February 17, 2014. Credit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz
Protesters at the Holot Detention Center, February 17, 2014.Credit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz

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