200 African Migrants Flee New Israeli Detention Center, Open Hunger Strike

African migrants are free to leave the new open facility during the day, but need to report back at nightfall.

Shirly Seidler
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Shirly Seidler

Some 200 African migrants on Sunday left the new open detention facility in southern Israel and declared that they would not return and were on hunger strike.

The migrants had left the facility, which is open during the day, in the morning and walked 60 km – about six hours – to Be'er Sheva. Many were wearing only light clothes and sandals.

One of the migrants told Haaretz that all of the residents at the new facility have been on hunger strike for two days, the day after being transferred there from Saharonim.

The facility, called Holot, was officially opened three days ago and is capable of holding some 3,300 people. Detainees are free to leave it during the day, but are required to be present at the center three times a day for a head count – morning, afternoon and evening. The 500 migrants currently housed there are not allowed out from 6 A.M. to 10 P.M. and are barred from working.

Another 54 migrants who left the facility on Saturday did not return to the center. Residents of the region reported that they saw dozens of people walking on the road leading to Be’er Sheva, most of them not dressed for the cold weather. In response, Ramat Negev Regional Council chairman Shmuel Rifman ordered that two buses be sent to bring them to Be’er Sheva at no charge

The center continued its procedure of allowing migrants to leave the facility on Sunday morning, and another 40 people were seen standing at the nearby Shivta Junction, not far from an army base.

Public Security Ministry Director General Rotem Peleg said last week that the detainees at the facility would receive 500 Shekels ($140) per month. Some of the migrants, who will be employed in services for the center, will be paid. Although the salary has yet to be finally determined, Peleg said it would probably be more than that prisoners receive, which is 14 shekels an hours.

Last week it was reported that the Transportation Ministry would send 16 buses a day from Holot to Be’er Sheva and Dimona, at a cost of 6 million shekels a year. The Metropoline bus company was to have provided the service starting Sunday morning, but has yet to do so. Metropoline said the buses would start running either on Sunday or Monday.

The Population and Immigration Authority said: “We have beefed up enforcement in light of the opening of the facility; we are carrying out enforcement in keeping with the law as always and also with regard to infiltrators who left the facility and did not return.”

The Authority said that enforcement is also being applied with regard to businesses that hire illegal migrants in breach of the law, saying that "employers were informed and the infiltrators know the law and the procedures very well.”

Holot detention center.Credit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz

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