The Israel Prison Service confiscated heaters from asylum seekers held at the Holot detention facility, even as temperatures approached the freezing point on Friday night.
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Detainees said many have remained in their beds for most of the day, wrapped in clothes and blankets in attempt to ward off the extreme cold. According to the Prison Service, radiators inside the cells are banned because they pose a fire-hazard.
Following appeals by human rights groups and Knesset members Dov Hanin (Hadash), Michal Rozin and Ilan Gilon (Meretz), heating pads were distributed by the facility to every cell. However, detainees said that not only are heating pads not enough to keep warm, but that only three pads per 10 people were given.
"People are suffering from the cold. It's very cold and windy," Isaac, a detainee, told Haaretz. Isaac, who chose not to reveal his full name, is originally from Darfur in Sudan, and has been held in Holot for a year.
Isaac said that detainees are wearing layers of clothes, and that there are not enough blankets. "We talked to them, we told them 'give us heating,' they said 'no, we don't want to,'" Isaac said. "They gave us something small, a heating pad. It doesn't help, it's nothing. We told them it's not right, we're cold. They said they'll bring us more heating pads by Sunday."
The Prison Service denied the media reports and stated that "heated areas are open to detainees all hours of the day. Distribution of blankets and coats is continuing, despite meagre demand." The chief of the Holot detention center, Shalom Yaakov, responded to the reports and said that they "don't reflect the situation, as last night hundreds of heating pads were given out to the detainees."
The commander of the Israel Prison Service southern district, Asher Shriki, added that the situation "isn't as extreme as some elements are trying to portray, probably out of their own agenda."
The Holot detention center, opened about a year ago, houses over 2,200 asylum seekers from Sudan and Eritrea. Last week, the state has resumed ordering asylum seekers to Holot, after three months in which no such summons were issued.
The Interior Ministry initially stopped summoning asylum seekers to Holot in September, when the High Court of Justice overturned the law allowing it to do so. The Knesset then passed new enabling legislation just before it disbanded last month, but in response to several petitions against the new law, the High Court issued a temporary injunction barring the ministry from using it to order asylum seekers to Holot.
Last Tuesday, however, the court canceled this injunction. An expanded panel of nine justices is slated to hear the petitions against the new law on February 3.