High Court Issues Injunction Halting New Detentions of Asylum–seekers

Human-rights groups submit petition against new amendment to anti-infiltration law.

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Asylum seeker arrives at Holot detention center in January 2014.
Asylum seeker arrives at Holot detention center in January 2014. Credit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz

The High Court of Justice issued a temporary injunction on Thursday prohibiting the state from issuing new summonses requiring asylum–seekers to be held in the Holot detention facility. The injunction also bans the state from detaining asylum–seekers in the Saharonim prison as punishment for infractions during their stay in Holot. The court issued the ruling in response to a request by human rights groups, which submitted a petition yesterday asking for the repeal of the Knesset’s new amendment to the Prevention of Infiltration Law – which allows the imprisonment of asylum-seekers. The groups asked the court for an interim injunction against new summonses until the petition has been heard.

“After two occasions on which the Supreme Court struck down the Prevention of Infiltration Law, the respondents are once again presenting legislation that contains a structure, purposes, means and ideas that are almost identical to those in the last amendment that was struck down,” reads the petition, submitted by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, the Hotline for Refugees and Migrants and several other groups.

The court struck down the previous amendment to the law on September 22, ruling that it was unconstitutional and caused disproportionate harm to the asylum-seekers’ liberty. To enable the Knesset to draft a new, constitutional arrangement, the court postponed the repeal of the law by three months until December 22. On the day it disbanded, 10 days ago, the Knesset completed the drafting of a new amendment to the law. The new law was published in Reshumot, the gazette of record for the State of Israel, on Wednesday, five days before the date set for the repeal of the previous amendment.

The petitioners state further that the entire purpose of the new amendment is identical to that of the other amendments that the court overturned, whose stated goal was to encourage the asylum-seekers to leave. The revised amendment allows new asylum-seekers who enter Israel illegally to be incarcerated in the Saharonim detention facility for three months. It also enshrines in law the continued operation of the Holot facility, but limits the time period that asylum-seekers may be held there to a year and eight months. Inmates of the Holot facility may not work, must stay in Holot each day between 10 P.M. and 6 A.M., and sign in between 8 P.M. and 10 P.M. The Israel Prison Service continues to run the facility despite the court’s criticism.

The petition against the new amendment was submitted by attorneys Oded Feller and Yonatan Berman of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, Asaf Weitzen and Rachel Friedman of the Hotline for Refugees and Migrants, Anat Ben Dor and Elad Kahana of the Refugee Rights Clinic at Tel Aviv University and Osnat Cohen Lifshitz of the Clinic for Migrants’ Rights at the College of Law and Business in Ramat Gan. It was also submitted in the names of two asylum-seekers from Eritrea and Sudan who have been imprisoned in the Holot facility for 10 months. Other signatories to the petition include the Assaf Aid Organization for Refugees and Asylum Seekers in Israel, Kav LaOved, Physicians for Human Rights and the African Refugee Development Center.

“The population that this petition deals with, a population of people who are not being deported to their countries of origin because their lives are in danger there ... is one of the weakest and most hated populations in Israel,” the introduction to the petition reads in part. “Incitement against it breaks new records each day.”

The petitioners state further that the entire purpose of the new amendment is identical to that of the other amendments that the court overturned, whose stated goal was to encourage the asylum-seekers to leave. “The law continues to harm human beings who have the right to international protections, whom the State of Israel has decided must not be deported from its territory,” the petition reads.

The petitioners add that the court warned against using deprivation of liberty as a means of deterrent, and argue that reducing the obligation to report for roll call or sign in from three times a day to once a day does not make the Holot facility right and proper.

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