Israeli Authorities Release 24 Eritreans Wrongly Detained in Desert Facility

Moves follows Haaretz stories, demands by lawyer, MK.

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African asylum seekers at the Holot detention facility protest the expulsion from Israel of others, February 17, 2014.
African asylum seekers at the Holot detention facility protest the expulsion from Israel of others, February 17, 2014.Credit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz

The Immigration and Population Authority released 24 Eritrean asylum seekers from the Holot detention facility on Sunday. They were being held there even though they did not meet the criteria for detention set by the authority itself.

Their story was published by Haaretz about six weeks ago. Two weeks ago, Haaretz reported that only one of the detainees, who had gotten a lawyer, was released from the facility even though a month had gone by since their details was passed along to immigration officials. on Sunday, the authority released the remaining 23 asylum seekers, with one of them apparently returning to Eritrea under the government offer to those willing to go back.

According to the authority’s criteria, the order to report to Holot applies only to Eritrean citizens who entered Israel prior to late 2008, and to Sudanese citizens who crossed the Israeli border before late 2010. During a visit to Holot last month, an Eritrean asylum seeker told attorney Osnat Cohen-Lipshitz that he was being held there even though he entered Israel in 2009. He gave her the names of 23 others being held under similar circumstances. Cohen-Lipshitz approached the authority the next day, demanding that these asylum seekers be released. A similar request was made by the chairman of the Knesset’s Committee on Migrant Workers, MK Michal Rosin (Meretz), but only a month later did the authority admit its mistake and release the detainees.

Last Thursday Cohen-Lipshitz contacted the authority again, with the names of 13 Eritrean asylum seekers being held against regulations, and demanded that they be released immediately.

“The Population and Immigration Authority continues to act in opposition to the law, while severely harming the right to freedom of many asylum seekers. Over a period of many weeks, the authority did not think to perform simple checks that should be expected of an authority in a law-abiding state. To the contrary, with one hand, the authority (was forced to) release individuals brought to its attention, while with the other, it continued to act against the law and detain individuals against its own regulations,” wrote Cohen-Lipshitz to Yossi Edelstein, head of enforcement and administration at the Population and Immigration Authority.

“The Authority’s conduct raises substantial suspicion that the individuals in question were released not because the authority recognized that it is subject to the law, but from a desire to evade public and judicial criticism,” added the attorney. “This is not the first time the authority has enacted a ‘revolving door’ policy that has harmed the basic rights of foreign citizens. In order to root out this problem at the source, I request that immediate action be taken to release all those who are being held in opposition to the criteria, and I ask yet again that the authority undertake every effort to ensure that this practice cease in the future.”

Rosin joined in criticizing the authority, stating that the issue will be discussed in her committee this week. “These repeated reports of asylum seekers being held against regulations determined by the population authority itself attests to the arbitrariness of their methods,” said Rosin. “I was just informed that 23 Eritreans being held against regulations were released after I filed a petition with the population authority, and I have also just learned that another 13 were ordered to the facility despite the fact that they, too, do not meet the criteria. This is additional proof that the government is being irresponsible with the basic rights of tens of thousands of asylum seekers within its borders.”

In response, the Population and Immigration Authority stated, “We will deal with these cases and investigate each one of them, as we do with every request. As with other requests filed by attorney Cohen-Lipshitz, if she is filing requests as their representative, she will be required to present the necessary documentation.”

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