Some African asylum seekers are being sent to the Holot detention facility in southern Israel to renew residency permits instead of a central Israel office that normally handles such matters. An NGO has complained to the government about the move, calling it an attempt to inconvenience migrants.
The Hotline for Refugees and Migrants revealed this week that asylum seekers who are expecting to receive a detention order are being forced to travel to Holot to renew their permits. The hearing itself is not unusual, but the interviews have previously taken place at Population, Immigration and Border Authority offices in Bnei Brak, with others in Be'er Sheva or Eilat – areas where a number of migrants live.
The nonprofit flagged the issue in a letter to Yossi Edelstein, director of enforcement and foreign nationals at the authority (which is part of the Interior Ministry).
Hotline views the authority’s change in procedures as an attempt to give asylum seekers the runaround, since Holot is far from the major cities and a 2.5 hour rive from Tel Aviv. Some of the asylum seekers are required to travel to the facility with their children in order to prove they have a family, one of the criteria that exempts them from having to stay there.
“The ministry’s decision to hold hearings in advance of detention orders at the Holot facility raises a heavy suspicion of extraneous considerations," Hotline wrote to Edelstein. "First, the significance of the decision is spreading fear and concern among the asylum-seeker community. Those receiving the request to appear for the hearing at Holot imagine themselves arriving at Holot and being required to remain there, jailed for a period of a year.
“Even if this is not true and those who will receive a detention order to report to Holot will receive it for a later time, this causes then unnecessary suffering throughout the entire process," the letter continued. "It is superfluous to note that this could also harm [the asylum seeker’s] ability to raise their claims in an orderly manner before the authority’s officials. Entering the facility itself is also difficult for those who were previously jailed there, and could well create conditions of post-traumatic [stress] for some of the asylum seekers, which could cause real harm.”
Hotline is also concerned that the new situation could prevent some asylum seekers from being represented at the hearings, and suspects that this is intentional - because Holot is so distant and the trip there long and costly. As well as lawyers deciding not to attend these hearings, even human rights organizations are not represented at the facility on a daily basis and cannot provide adequate representation for the hundreds of asylum seekers at the hearings. Consequently, most will have no representation at all.
Last Monday, the High Court of Justice criticized the Population Authority for its procedures that force African asylum seekers to sign documents at the authority’s offices in Ben-Gurion International Airport. These are located some 15-20 minutes from public transportation stops.
Supreme Court President Miriam Naor said that "sending people en masse to such a facility shows insufficient consideration - and that's putting it mildly." She instructed the government’s representative at the hearing to find “a more humanitarian solution.”
Commenting on the distances required to walk, Justice Hanan Melcer noted that some people would find it easy to walk for 10 minutes, but others would find it very difficult. “There are people there who were tortured [in their homelands], and that is why they were released [in Israel],” added Melcer.
The Population Authority responded, “From time to time, the authority makes assessments of its professional and physical requirements, and decisions are made accordingly. This is also how decisions are made on whether there is a need for the deployment of additional offices for handling those requesting permits.”
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