Judges Nix Summonses of Asylum Seekers, Slam Israel's Detention Policy

Fundamental problems in process include failure to grant hearings or exam individual circumstances; state denies violating Africans' rights.

Ilan Lior
Ilan Lior
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Ilan Lior
Ilan Lior

Judges have recently cancelled summonses of African asylum seekers to the Holot detention facility, and frozen others until appeals can be heard against them, while criticizing the practice.

In a few cases, the courts have mentioned serious, fundamental problems in the summons process, including the failure to grant hearings to asylum seekers before effectively taking away their freedom, as well as the government’s failure to examine each individual’s circumstances. In one response to such criticism, the government replied that it does not see a need for holding hearings for asylum seekers before ordering them to the Holot facility, because doing so is not a violation of their rights. Human rights organizations have stated that the court’s recent series of decisions casts doubt on the legitimacy of every order issued to asylum seekers to travel to the Holot facility.

In one recent case, a Be’er Sheva District court nullified the summons received by a 29-year-old Sudanese man to report to Holot. The individual entered Israel in June 2012, and was held in Saharonim prison under the previous revision to the anti-infiltration law, which had just gone into effect. In February 2013, he formally requested asylum, stating that he faces persecution in Sudan because of his membership in a students’ organization at the University of Khartoum. He claims that due to this membership, he was arrested twice, tortured, and subjected to electric shock. His request for asylum has yet to be answered.

The government did not release him from Saharonim after the High Court of Justice nullified the amendment to the anti-infiltration law. Instead, he was transferred directly to the Holot detention facility when it was opened in December. A few days later, he participated in a march to Jerusalem alongside hundreds of other asylum seekers, was arrested, and sent back to Saharonim. He was then transferred to Holot a second time.

Attorneys Asaf Weitzen and Nimrod Avigal from the Hotline for Refugees and Migrants asserted that there were serious fundamental flaws in the asylum seeker’s detention, and that he should be immediately released for this reason. The claims were denied.

Judge Chany Slotky, however, approved the petition, and harshly criticized the government’s conduct in this incident. She ruled that the state did not inform the individual why he was being interviewed. “How, if at all, the individual was given a chance to state his claims, if he did not know the purpose of the interview?” she asked. “It seems as if the individual believed that the interview was held to prepare him for release, as it was with hundreds who were held and released before him.”

The judge also wrote that the individual’s right to legal representation was violated, and that following the interview, the decision to transfer him to Holot was not recorded. She also rejected the government’s claim that the individual’s personal circumstances were taken into account, pointing out during the hearing that the fact that he had been held in detention for over a year and a half was not taken into account, despite the fact that such a period of detention violates the latest amendment to anti-infiltration law.

She also criticized the direct transfer of asylum seekers from Saharonim to Holot, stating that it would have been appropriate to release the individual from prison before sending him to the detention facility. It was also found that he was illegally detained for 24 hours prior to being transferred to Holot. For all of these reasons, Slotky ruled that he be released.

In other cases, the courts have issued orders to freeze summonses to Holot, in order to hear appeals. Attorney Asaf Weitzen said these court decisions should set off alarms. “Every decision to send an individual to the Holot facility is done exactly the same way: without any hearing, explanation, or sensitivity to the individual’s concrete circumstances," he said. "In other words, the Interior Ministry is illegally detaining hundreds of thousands of individuals in prison-like conditions.”

The state, which transferred 483 asylum seekers to Holot from Saharonim prison upon its opening, ordered last month over 3,200 asylum seekers in various cities to report to Holot within 30 days or face imprisonment. Only around 40% of them reported to the facility in the time allotted. Among the 700 asylum seekers who have reported to the facility at least once, around 80 left, and did not return.

Some 500 detainees at the Holot facility lent their support to a nearby rally held by African asylum seekers. February 17, 2014.Credit: Eliyahu Hershkowitz

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