Detained Asylum Seekers Petition High Court for Immediate Release

The detainees have been held for over two years, despite a court order that they be released when the second amendment was struck down.

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Afriacn migrants in the Saharonim detention facility.
Afriacn migrants in the Saharonim detention facility.Credit: Eliahu Hershkovitz

The Hotline for Refugees and Migrants has submitted a petition to the High Court of Justice demanding the release of 138 Eritrean and Sudanese asylum-seekers who have been held in detention facilities for more than two years.

The asylum-seekers in question were initially imprisoned on the basis of the third amendment to the Prevention of Infiltration Law, which the High Court of Justice overturned about a year ago. Despite the court’s order at the time to release all the imprisoned people immediately, the state continued to keep them in custody for another three months and then transferred them directly to the Holot detention facility, when it opened. Even after the court overturned the fourth amendment to the law about a month ago, the detainees were not released.

None of the asylum-seekers on whose behalf the petition was submitted have been free since entering Israel. All have requested asylum, some well over a year ago, but few have even received a reply. A small number were turned down.

The petition, submitted by attorneys Asaf Weitzen and Carmel Pomerantz, notes that the asylum-seekers entered Israel in the summer of 2012, immediately after the third amendment of the law took effect. They were transferred from the Saharonim facility to Holot in December 2013. Most of them participated in a protest march to Jerusalem several days later and were arrested and imprisoned once again. A month later, during the large demonstrations by asylum-seekers in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, they began a solidarity hunger strike.

The group of asylum-seekers that was transferred from Saharonim to Holot numbered about 500 originally, but less than 200 remain there today. The others either left Israel or were released. The personal details of 138 asylum-seekers who agreed to allow the Hotline to deal with their cases are appended to the petition.

The petition cites excerpts from the two legal rulings that overturned the amendments to the law, which emphasize the severe violation of the asylum-seekers’ rights and the wrongness of depriving them of liberty. The petitioners note that the detainees lack the means to hire lawyers and have not received legal aid from any official agency. For that reason, the petition states, they have no alternative but to submit a joint petition to the High Court of Justice.

“Not granting this petition in its present form is tantamount to leaving many people to rot in conditions similar to imprisonment for an indefinite period of time,” the petition reads. It notes that individual proceedings by two asylum-seekers who were imprisoned for more than two years ended in their release. They say that the rulings in those cases should have led to the release of all the petitioners, due to the similarities in the circumstances.

The attorneys have asked for an urgent hearing on the petition in order to “translate the correct and well-placed statements of the majority judges... into liberty and dignity for 138 flesh-and-blood human beings.”

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