African Asylum Seekers Due at Holot Detention Center Today

MKs to tour controversial center for first time since it opened.

The first orders issued a month ago by the Population, Immigration and Border Authority, instructing asylum seekers to report within 30 days to the Holot detention center, go into effect Sunday. The authority said that 65 Africans have been ordered to report to Holot, and that it was providing buses to take them from Tel Aviv to the center, which is located in the Negev.

Orders have been issued to 1,800 asylum seekers living in various cities throughout the country. The center can hold a maximum of 3,300 people, and the 303 people currently required to stay at Holot were transferred there six weeks ago from the nearby Saharonim detention center. Fifty of these left the facility – which is open during the day – and did not return.

Those required to stay at Holot are not allowed to work, and must report to the center three times during the day for roll call – morning, afternoon and evening. They must remain at the facility from 10 P.M. to 6 A.M.

According to a new amendment to the law on preventing illegal entry to Israel, a person who fails to return to Holot for more than 48 hours can be incarcerated for three months at Saharonim. The police and the population authority are preparing an operation in coming days to locate and detain asylum seekers who didn’t report on the date they were required to.

The state is obligated to provide a bed, food, health and welfare services and public transportation at Holot. However, there have been many complaints from inmates at the facility over poor conditions. “Over the past few days I have received shocking testimony about what is happening there in terms of living conditions,” the chairwoman of the Knesset Committee on Foreign Workers, MK Michal Rosin (Meretz), said. “There is no heat in the rooms, no warm shoes, not enough food, people there are starved, there are no medications – substandard conditions,” she added. “Before moving thousands of people, the prison service must create the right conditions for people whose only crime is that the state does not recognize them as refugees.”

The Knesset Committee on Foreign Workers is to tour Holot on Sunday, for the first time since it opened. The Israel Prison Service has rejected the committee’s request that the media be allowed to accompany MKs inside the facility.

“The Holot facility has a clinic staffed by a doctor and paramedics,” the prison authority responded. “Those who are received at the facility are provided, at no cost, with hygiene products, warm clothing and, when needed, shoes as well. They also receive three full meals a day.”

It added that the inmates are “given a monthly allowance [of 160 shekels ($45), every 10 days], which they can use to purchase additional supplies at the canteen or outside the facility.”

The law states that women and children will not be told to report there, and Holot is intended for men only, for the time being. Summonses to report to Holot are issued to asylum seekers when they come to renew their temporary residence permits. The population authority said it intends to order only men without families to Holot, with those who have been here longest ordered to report first. However, many asylum seekers complain that they have been ordered to report to Holot although they are married and have children. The authority said it would cancel the summons of any person who can prove he has a family.

One of those required to report on Sunday is Solomon, an Eritrean asylum seeker who has been in Israel for six years and lives in Eilat. Last month, after receiving the summons, he left the hotel job he has held these past few years and Saturday made his way to Tel Aviv. “It is not easy. It’s very hard, sad,” he told Haaretz on Saturday. “It’s a great deal of pressure. I worked at the hotel for years. I haven’t yet received severance pay, nothing. In a month, you can’t even make all your arrangements. You can’t get an extension, and if you don’t show up it’s considered an offense.

“If I go to my country, it’s prison; I stay here, it’s prison,” Solomon continued. “I am 24 years old. Instead of doing things – studying, moving ahead in life – the word ‘prison’ comes back to me again.”

Solomon said he is not considering the offer to return to his country in exchange for $3,500. “I have no other choice. I prefer to sit here in Israel in prison, even for years. I hope that they will wake up and, instead of listening to all the extreme people in the Knesset who hate another person because of the color of his skin, that they will listen to the good people who tell them, ‘These people deserve to live.’”

At the end of last week, Interior Minister Gideon Sa’ar and Attorney General Yehuda Weinsten received a petition signed by 400 intellectuals and academics in support of the asylum seekers’ protest. The petition calls on the authorities not to imprison asylum seekers but rather to treat them as required by the treaty on refugees. Among the signatories are authors A.B. Yehoshua and Amos Oz; Israel Prize laureates, including sociologist Sammy Smooha, Holocaust scholar Prof. Yehuda Bauer, education expert Prof. Gabi Salomon and philosopher Prof. Avishai Margalit, as well as former and current deans of a number of law schools.

“Israel is obligated to examine in good faith and fairly, according to accepted standards in democratic countries, whether the asylum seekers may be accorded the status of refugees, and at least whether they are in danger of life and liberty if they return to their home country,” the petition states. “Under such circumstances, their arrest in detention facilities serves no purpose for them. It punishes them when they have done no wrong, just to deter others. This is prohibited.

“The failure to deal with their asylum requests and depriving them of the possibility of living with dignity until their status is clarified, and, recently, their arrest, are in the realm of abuse of human beings who are entitled to a different attitude entirely,” the petition adds.

Eliyahu Hershkovitz
Moti Milrod