Rights Groups Appeal to Revoke Detention Orders for Asylum Seekers

Demand comes after judges freeze certain summonses, slamming the conduct of the state.

Ilan Lior
Ilan Lior
Ilan Lior
Ilan Lior

Human rights organizations have asked the Tel Aviv District Court to revoke all the summonses issued to African asylum seekers and ordering them to report to the Holot detention facility in southern Israel. The petitioners argue that in issuing the orders the Interior Ministry’s Population and Immigration Authority violated protocol.

“The detention orders, from first to last, were issued without hearings, without clear and transparent criteria and without giving any justification, turning the authority of agency officials into a double-edged sword that cuts down the world of everyone against whom ‘detention orders’ were issued, together with the foundations of our judicial system,” the petition stated, in part.

The petition was filed by attorney Asaf Weitzen on behalf of the African Refugee Development Center, The Center for Refugees and Migrants, Kav La’Oved – Worker’s Hotline for the Protection of Worker’s Rights, the Gan Levinsky Library, ASSAF-Aid Organization for Refugees and Asylum Seekers and Physicians for Human Rights-Israel.

Another signatory to the petition is Mutasim Ali, a 27-year-old Sudanese national and leader of the asylum seekers’ protest who received an order to report to Holot next Sunday.

The court issued a temporary injunction, suspending his summons to Holot until after the petition is heard. The petitioners have requested a blanket injunction, freezing all the summonses to Holot until after their petition is adjudicated. Judge Kobi Vardi instructed the state to respond to the request by March 5.

In their petition, the organizations argue that the summonses are unjustified, saying they ignore the situation of asylum seekers who have lived in Israel for many years under the temporary protection policy and do not consider the long amount of time that passed without any response to their requests for asylum.

Ali submitted a request more than a year ago, but the Interior Ministry has yet to respond. Meanwhile, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees concluded after a preliminary examination that he meets the conditions of the UN Refugee Convention. “Given the scope and importance of the rights that are being harmed, all the detention orders issued up to now must be canceled,” Weitzen says.

As reported in Haaretz on Thursday, judges have recently canceled the summonses to Holot of some asylum seekers and frozen others until appeals can be heard against them, while criticizing the practice.

In a few cases, the courts 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, the state 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.

When the Holot facility opened two months ago, 483 asylum seekers were transferred there from the Saharonim detention facility. Last month the state ordered more than 3,200 asylum seekers living in different cities to report to Holot within 30 days or face prison. Even so, only about 40 percent reported on time. According to Prison Authority data, of 850 asylum seekers who reported to the facility at least once, 85 have left it and not returned.

In response to the recent court decisions, the Population and Immigration Authority said, “This is new legislation that went into effect just two months ago. The Population and Immigration Authority is careful to comply with the law and will endeavor to honor and implement the court’s decisions. The authority has no doubt about the purpose of the open detention facility.”

Protesters at the Holot Detention Center, February 17, 2014. Credit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz

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