Eritrean Asylum-seekers Held in Israeli Detention Center Stepping Up Hunger Strike

Three of the 170 hunger-striking prisoners at Saharonim detention center have reportedly required medical attention; prison management preventing strikers from using telephone.

Ilan Lior
Ilan Lior
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Ilan Lior
Ilan Lior

The hunger strike by Eritrean migrants at the Saharonim detention center, which began Saturday, is still underway and according to the Israel Prison Service, 170 prisoners are now refusing meals.

One of the Eritrean prisoners told Haaretz yesterday that three prisoners have required medical attention. He said the prisoners would continue their strike until the government examined their asylum applications and responded to them. The Eritrean also said that the prison management was preventing hunger strikers from using the phone. “They have no communication with the outside,” he said.

Amnesty International Israel and Hotline for Migrant Workers have received similar reports.

According to the migrant, the prison management tried to persuade the hunger-strikers to desist, but the migrant with whom Haaretz spoke said they refused. “We need freedom. We can’t stay in this situation,” he said.

The migrant said that 50 prisoners in the prison’s sections 3 and 4 who were not striking were moved to a different wing.

The Israel Prison Service said in response that hunger-strikers in one wing had agreed to accept their meals, and all 170 prisoners who are striking have had their privileges revoked, including access to a telephone. The prison service said no prisoners have been evacuated for medical attention, nor were any moved to other wings because of the strike.

Some 1,400 migrants currently detained have submitted asylum applications in recent months. About 10 days ago, during a visit to the Saharonim facility by the Knesset Committee on Foreign Workers, the representative of the Population and Immigration Authority, Inbal Mashash, reported that the state has so far rejected 17 such applications, almost all from Eritreans. However, the state is not repatriating them for fear their lives would be in danger.

According to the law, if the state does not respond to an asylum-seeker’s request within nine months, the Custody Tribunal has the authority to release him or her.

In the wake of the hunger strike, Amnesty International Israel has called on the government to grant the migrants fair, efficient and transparent asylum procedures outside of prison. “The hunger strikers in Saharonim know that a return to Eritrea is a sentence of prison, persecution and in some cases death for them and their families,”, Amnesty International Israel Director Yonatan Ger said, because the Eritrean government sees all asylum requests as treason.

Human rights groups are protesting the fact that the prisoners have had their telephone privileges revoked, and say there is no precise information about their medical condition. Hotline for Migrant Workers and Physicians for Human Rights yesterday asked the Israel Prison Service for their doctors and activists to be able to enter the facility. Sigal Rozen, coordinator of public policy at the Hotline for Migrant Workers, said the Eritreans are told repeatedly that they will only go free if they agree to go back to Eritrea. “They know from the bitter experience of their friends that another jail awaits them in Eritrea, where conditions have been described by the U.S. State Department as life-threatening. In their desperation, they are hunger striking.”

African migrants behind barbed wire at the Saharonim detention facility in the Negev, 2012.Credit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz

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