Rights Groups to Fight New Rules Allowing Imprisonment of African Asylum Seekers

Legality of detaining asylum seekers in 'open' Holot facility still has to be decided by the High Court.

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Legislative Theater at Holot in rehearsals for their debut performance, June 2015.
Legislative Theater at Holot in rehearsals for their debut performance, June 2015.Credit: Ilan Assayag
Ilan Lior
Ilan Lior

Human rights organizations have gone to court in a bid to overturn new rules that would let the government send thousands more asylum seekers to the open detention facility in Holot.

The Interior Ministry’s Population, Immigration and Borders Authority issued the new rules earlier this week.

The organizations asked the High Court of Justice to bar implementation of the new guidelines until the court rules on an earlier petition challenging the constitutionality of the law that enables asylum seekers to be sent to Holot at all. A nine-justice panel is expected to rule on that petition soon.

Under the authority’s rules, whether or not an asylum seeker can be sent to Holot depends in part on when he entered Israel. Previously, Sudanese nationals could be sent there only if they had entered before May 31, 2011 and Eritreans only if they had entered before May 31, 2009. Now, the cutoff has been moved to December 31, 2011 for Sudanese and to July 31, 2011 for Eritreans.

Israel doesn’t deport Sudanese and Eritreans because of the dangers they face in their home countries.

The petition to suspend the new rules was filed by a coalition of human rights organizations, including the Hotline for Refugees and Migrants, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, Tel Aviv University’s Refugee Rights Clinic, Physicians for Human Rights and the African Refugee Development Center. The court gave the state one week to respond.

The petition termed the rule change “dramatic” and said an injunction was necessary to prevent “severe, destructive and irreversible harm to the fundamental constitutional rights of a widening circle of thousands of additional people.”

Moreover, it charged, the change would affect a large number of asylum seekers who suffered torture and sexual abuse at the hands of human traffickers in Sinai, since many of the victims of these traffickers entered Israel during the period covered by the new rules.

The petitioners also noted that when they filed their original petition against the law itself, then-Supreme Court President Asher Grunis said the court should rule on it “speedily.” Yet, more than six months have passed since then. Thus the least the court can do is not allow the existing situation to get any worse, they argued.

The Israel Prison Service told Haaretz last weekend that there are currently 1,723 asylum seekers at Holot – 1,370 from Sudan and 353 from Eritrea. The facility can hold about 3,300 people, but many asylum seekers ordered to report to Holot have opted instead to go to Rwanda or Uganda.

Women, children, people over 60, fathers of minor children, recognized trafficking victims and people with certain medical problems cannot be sent to Holot.

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