Hundreds of Holot Detainees Protested Conditions

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African asylum seekers at the Holot detention facility protest the expulsion from Israel of others, February 17, 2014.Credit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz

Hundreds of detainees in the Holot detention center refused to return to their rooms Tuesday night until a solution was found for nine Sudanese asylum seekers forced to sleep outside due to a lack of beds.

The detainees left their wards and congregated at the entrance to the facility, defying regulations that they must remain inside their rooms between 10:00 PM and 6:00 AM. They returned to their rooms at 5:00 A.M.

The nine men transferred to Holot Monday were part of a group of 29 detainees who were transferred from Saharonim Prison in the Negev to Holot on Monday. A photograph taken by another detainee shows the men on the ground near the facility’s fence.

Prison Service officials denied the charge, saying that 20 of the detainees were immediately assigned rooms and that guards found rooms for the nine men at 10 P.M. They said that the detainees refused beds offered to them earlier, insisting that they stay together.

The nine men claim they still have not been given appropriate rooms. Other detainees supported their account, saying the nine men were being threatened with going back to Saharonim.

“There are other wings here, but they don’t want to open them, claiming they are unfinished,” said Anwar Suleiman, another asylum seeker from Sudan, who took the photograph. “We suggested that they sleep in the clubhouse, but they refused and said they would sleep outdoors. I saw the new wings and they are ready”.

He continued, “There are eight full sections here. I know the volunteers in all of them. There are no available beds. They are wrong. No one would let their brother sleep in such cold outdoors. I told them to come and stay in my room, but they refused. They only wanted a bed, not to stay together.”

Attorney Osnat Cohen-Lifshitz from the Clinic for Migrants’ Rights at the College for Law and Business in Ramat Gan wrote to Amnon Ben Ami, the director general of the Interior Ministry’s Population, Immigration and Border Authority: “The asylum seekers were forced to wait outdoors well into the night, exposed to the elements without even a chair to sit on, let alone a bed. It is shocking to see such photos.” She demanded that all prisoners without rooms at the facility be released and that new detention orders be revoked and new summons frozen until minimum conditions can be guaranteed for inmates.

Last week, Margalit Cohen, who is in charge of tracking inmates at the Prison Service, spoke to the Knesset Committee on Foreign Workers. She said there are currently 2,352 asylum seekers at Holot: 71.5 percent of them are from Sudan and 28.5 percent of them are from Eritrea, even though overall the proportion of Eritrean asylum seekers in Israel is much higher. Forty-six inmates had left Holot without returning, and only 21 vacancies remained in the facility, she said.

In response to a question, she said that if more inmates arrived, solutions would be found and new wings opened. The Prison Service claimed Tuesday that there was still room at the facility.

“These are false charges. Everyone who arrived on Monday received a room and a bed. There is space there, but we can’t place everyone according to his wishes, and this is what the protest was about. This is not the first time that erroneous reporting is being used to pressure the facility’s management. This will not impact the professional manner in which decisions are made at the Prison Service.”

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