The state has resumed ordering asylum seekers to the open detention facility in Holot, after three months in which no such summonses were issued.
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The Interior Ministry initially stopped summoning asylum seekers to Holot in September, when the High Court of Justice overturned the law allowing it to do so. The Knesset then passed new enabling legislation just before it disbanded last month, but in response to several petitions against the new law, the High Court issued a temporary injunction barring the ministry from using it to order asylum seekers to Holot.
Last Tuesday, however, the court canceled this injunction. Since then, several Eritrean and Sudanese asylum seekers who came to renew their visas at Interior Ministry offices in Bnei Brak, Be’er Sheva and Eilat have been summoned to hearings, which is an administrative precursor to being sent to Holot.
An expanded panel of nine justices is slated to hear the petitions against the new law on February 3. Eight of these justices served on the panels that overturned two earlier, more draconian versions of the law. The expanded panel will be headed by incoming Supreme Court President Miriam Naor, who is due to take office next week.
The new law, like the old, allows the Interior Ministry to send Sudanese nationals to Holot if they entered Israel illegally before the end of May 2011, and Eritreans if they did so before the end of May 2009, even if they had previously been issued work visas. However, the law lists many categories of people who cannot be sent to Holot, including women and children, men with wives or minor children, men aged 60 or older, victims of human trafficking or slavery, and people whose health is liable to suffer from being held at the facility.
On Sunday, a new Hebrew-language website called HolotVoices came online. The site, which brings quotes from asylum seekers detained at both Holot and Saharonim Prison, is a joint venture by several human rights organizations. These groups are also behind the petitions against the new law.
According to the website, its goal is to expose Israelis to “the human stories and experiences that lie behind lofty words like ‘residential facility,’ ‘refugee’ or ‘asylum seeker,’” because “it’s harder to hate, fear and deport someone if you look into his eyes and hear his story, even if only for a moment.”
“In Holot, you get up in the morning and don’t know what for; every hour seems like a day,” a Sudanese inmate called Hassan told the site. “Once there was still hope, now there isn’t even that.”
Jamil, another Sudanese inmate, spoke of the state’s efforts to get asylum seekers to leave voluntarily. “Only the most despairing – those who no longer care if they lose their lives – sign [the consent forms],” he told the website. “We hear about what happened to those who returned. To knowingly cause people’s death indirectly – that isn’t murder?”
There are currently more than 2,200 Eritrean and Sudanese asylum seekers at Holot. Under the new law, they can be held there for up to 20 months.