Darfur Refugee Spent Year in Holot Because of Mistake

State immediately released asylum seeker after lawyer took up case.

Eliyahu Hershkovitz

An asylum seeker from Sudan was held for a year in the Holot detention center in because of a mistake by the Population and Immigration Authority. Only after the man approached the authority though a lawyer did the state admit its error, release him and grant him temporary residency.

It emerged that the man, who gave his name as Ahmed, had been entitled to this status seven years ago.

Two weeks ago, Ahmed, 41, asked the Smadar Ben-Natan law firm to help release him from Holot, telling her his mental and physical health were deteriorating. A firm attorney, Adi Lerner, immediately wrote a letter requesting that the Population and Immigration Authority grant him temporary residency, based on a 2008 cabinet decision under Prime Minister Ehud Olmert granting such status to the first 600 migrants from Darfur to arrive in Israel.

Lerner said that after Ahmed became aware of the cabinet decision, he went to the Interior Ministry in Tel Aviv, but was unable to meet a representative of the Population and Immigration Authority. His efforts to arrange his status through the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the Hotline for Refugees and Migrants were to no avail. The morning after Lerner wrote the letter, Ahmed was told he was being released.

“After examining the matter, it was found that the above-mentioned appears on the UN list conveyed in 2007 following the interior minster’s decision to grant status to 600 Darfurians,” Orit Shremi, supervisor of border control in the Population and Immigration Authority, wrote to Lerner.

According to Lerner, anyone dealing with asylum seekers should have known that people from Darfur who came to Israel in mid-2007 had the right to temporary residency. “The way the authority acted in Ahmed’s matter shows the unbearable ease in which the State of Israel denies a person’s liberty,” she said.

Lerner added that the speed with which her request to release Ahmed was granted and give him temporary residency shows “the simple nature of the inquiry and how negligent the authority was in his case.”

In Ahmed’s request for asylum, he stated that gangs murdered the people of his village in Darfur, looted their possessions and burned his house. After the attack, his family fled to a refugee camp and he fled to Khartoum, from there to Egypt and finally to Israel. For six years, until Ahmed was detained at Holot, he lived in an apartment in Eilat and worked in one of the city’s hotels. After receiving the summons to report to Holot, his blood pressure rose and he became diabetic, Ahmed told Haaretz yesterday.

The routine at Holot was frustrating, he said. “I go to the club and if there’s soccer I watch soccer. If not, I’m in bed, in the room. I don’t feel well. I sit on the bed for a long time, maybe until 3 A.M., thinking what to do.”

During the interview, Ahmed showed scars on his head, hands and legs, which he said were from injuries in Darfur. He was released about 10 days ago and still does not have an identity card. He is now in Tel Aviv, looking for work.

“He has to start from zero,” Lerner said, adding that he can only get health insurance six months after receiving his residency permit. Meanwhile, he is unable to obtain the medications he needs.

The Population and Immigration Authority responded that Ahmed “infiltrated into Israel in 2007 and at no point over the years did he claim to be from Darfur, even when he was summoned to Holot, and during his stay there he did not raise this claim or submit a request for a visa based on it, which is surprising in itself. Only recently was a request submitted in his name and when the matter was checked it emerged that he is indeed entitled to a visa. An order was given immediately to release him and he was granted a visa.”

Contrary to the authority’s claim, Haaretz has documents showing that Ahmed had stated early on that he was from Darfur.