Ministry Freezes Summons of African Asylum Seekers to Holot

Haaretz revealed that, despite a High Court ruling to close the center within 90 days, the state was still ordering migrants to report to the detention center.

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Asylum seekers can be seen at Holot after a High Court ruling to close the facility within 90 days, Sept. 22, 2014.
Asylum seekers can be seen at Holot after a High Court ruling to close the facility within 90 days, Sept. 22, 2014.Credit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz

The Interior Ministry issued an order on Monday to freeze the summons of migrants to the Holot detention facility. The move came after Haaretz reported that the ministry had kept sending Eritreans and Sudanese there, despite a High Court ruling ordering its closure.

On Sunday, the Interior Ministry refused to respond to Haaretz after the newspaper learned that the ministry was still ordering people to report to Holot. On Monday, however, Amnon Ben Ami, the head of Israel's Population, Immigration and Border Authority, ordered the summons frozen.

The authority's spokeswoman, Sabine Hadad, said Monday that Ben Ami instructed clerks at the ministry to refrain from issuing a summons to any migrant who has not yet received an order to report to Holot. She added that discussions were being held to shape "a new law that will be brought to the government and the Knesset, in the wake of the High Court's ruling last week, in order to implement government policy." Hadad added that the instruction to halt summons will be in place until new legislation is legislated or other instructions are given.

On Sunday, nearly a week after the court's ruling, clerks from the ministry's Population, Immigration and Border Authority ordered asylum seekers who were trying to extend their visas to report to Holot within 30 days. The state was also enforcing orders previously handed out to migrants to report to the facility.

The new directives that summoned asylum seekers to Holot read exactly as they did before the High Court ruling – warning the recipient that if he does not report within 30 days, he may be taken into custody in accordance with the same section of the Prevention of Infiltration that was struck down by the High Court. It was also emphasized that these individuals would not be allowed to work in Israel.

Despite the order on Monday freezing further summons to Holot, the authority does not seem to have changed its policy toward asylum seekers ordered to Holot before the High Court ruling.  In its response Sunday to an Eritrean asylum seeker who appealed his order to report to Holot, the state wrote that until it formulates a new policy, the summonses remain valid.

“Since the ruling was handed down, the agreed-upon authorities are working to implement the conclusions of the Supreme Court and to formulate a policy that is appropriate in light of the new legal reality,” the state wrote. “At this time, and until the end of the 90 days as stated by the court, the respondent’s position is that the appellant must report to the Holot center.”

Attorney Tomer Warsha, who is representing the Eritrean man, lashed out at the conduct of the immigration authority.

“Although this isn’t the first time that a state authority has ignored a High Court ruling in the field, it seems that this time it’s crossed a line, publicly declaring that it maintains its position despite the ruling, as if nothing has happened,” he said.

The fact that the Population and Immigration Authority is continuing to order asylum seekers to report to Holot and hasn’t canceled earlier directives seems to indicate that policy makers at the Interior Ministry aren’t rushing to close down the facility, and are seeking ways to circumvent the court decision.

Such an approach is supported by right-wing members of Knesset, and by Interior Minister Gideon Sa'ar. Indeed, shortly after the High Court issued its ruling, Sa’ar issued a statement criticizing it, saying he would work to restrict the authority of the court.

“We must consider amending the Basic Law on Human Dignity and Freedom in a way that will restrict the High Court’s intervention in Knesset legislation that aims to cope with infiltration and infiltrators into Israel,” his statement read.

The day after the decision was handed down, Sa’ar wrote on his Facebook page: “The High Court decision on the Prevention of Infiltration Law is mistaken and dangerous. The last word must be that of the legislature.”

Furthermore, a group of MKs led by Habayit Hayehudi faction head Ayelet Shaked have announced that when the Knesset winter session opens after the Sukkot holiday, they will try to push through legislation that allow the Knesset to reformulate laws that contravene the Basic Law on Human Dignity, despite the decision of the High Court.

In its ruling last Monday, the court ruled in favor of a petition submitted by human rights organizations, and also overturned the amendment to the Prevention of Infiltration Law – just nine months after it was approved by the Knesset. A majority of seven justices to two ordered the closure of Holot within 90 days.

The panel also struck down, by a vote of six to three, the section of the law allowing imprisonment for a year of a person entering Israel illegally.

The justices ruled these two clauses in the amendment to the law were unconstitutional, and also violated the previous High Court ruling on the matter which had overturned an earlier amendment to the Prevention of Infiltration Law a year ago.

Some 2,200 asylum seekers from Sudan and Eritrea are now being held at the Holot facility. The Israel Prisons Service reported on Sunday that since the High Court ruling this number has not changed: that is, no asylum seekers have left and no new detainees have arrived. The only change has been the immediate cancellation of the midday roll call, as was stipulated by the court. Now asylum seekers are required to sign in only twice a day, in the morning and evening, according to the IPS.

The Population and Immigration Authority declined to comment on this matter.

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