At least 23 asylum seekers from Eritrea are still being held in a detention center in southern Israel, in violation of state policy, nearly a month after their situation was brought to the attention of the immigration agency.
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After a visit to Holot, attorney Osnat Cohen-Lifshitz of the Clinic for Migrants’ Rights at the College of Law and Business in Ramat Gan, gave the Population, Immigration and Border Authority the personal details of 24 individuals she said should not have been sent to the facility, according to the agency’s own criteria. The story was published in Haaretz in Hebrew several days later. And yet the authority has to date released only one of the 24.
According to the criteria published by the population authority and submitted in court cases on the issue, only Eritrean nationals who crossed the border into Israel before the end of 2008 and Sudanese nationals who arrived before the end of 2010 are required to report to Holot.
But when Cohen-Lifshitz came to Holot on March 26, she was approached by a man who told her that he was being held there although he has only been in Israel since 2009. He gave her the names of 23 additional Eritreans who are in the detention center under similar circumstances.
The day after her visit, Cohen-Lifshitz reported the matter to the population authority, part of the Interior Ministry, which promised to investigate. At the time the authority said, in a statement to Haaretz, that “If it is found that there is someone staying in the center who is not supposed to be there – he will be released.”
For 10 days Cohen-Lifshitz did not hear back from the agency. After she threatened legal action, her client was released. He said the head of border control asked him to remain quiet about the circumstances of his release. No one else on the list given to the population authority had been released as of the time of publication.
About a week ago, shortly after her client’s release, Cohen-Lifshitz received a reply from the head of the agency’s enforcement division, Danit Michaeli, saying her request was being reviewed. Michaeli also asked Cohen-Lifshitz to submit to her office powers of attorney from each of the named individuals on the list.
In response, Cohen-Lifshitz registered a protest, writing in a letter to Michaeli: “You chose to release only the person represented by an attorney,” despite the fact that the 23 other Eritreans on the list were held at Holot under identical circumstances. “[B]ecause they had the misfortune not to have signed powers of attorney for a lawyer – their rights are being trampled and their road to freedom is being blocked,” Cohen-Lifshitz wrote.
She said the demand for power of attorney suggests that the population authority is not operating in good faith.
In a response, the Population, Immigration and Border Authority said that Lifshitz-Cohen had appealed to the agency on behalf of 24 individuals in a private matter. “Therefore, just as we demand in any such request, she was asked to present a power of attorney, if only to guarantee the request being made in their name was made with their knowledge. The request discussed 24 different individual cases, and not ‘one general’ request. Therefore, irrespective of the request for power of attorney, each case is examined on its own merits and individually.”
With regard to the claim of the man who was released from Holot, the agency wrote: “We are not aware than any employee of the authority asked the Eritrean citizen who was released not to talk about his release, and we fail to see the logic behind such a request.”