Asylum Seekers at Israeli Detention Facility to Launch New Protest

Sudanese and Eritrean detainees announce measures to disrupt Negev compound, demand freedom.

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

African asylum seekers at the Holot detention facility in the western Negev are expected to launch protest measures Monday to demand their release, promising to fight until they reach a satisfactory solution.

Over the past few days there have been meetings in all the facility’s wings, with the asylum seekers from Sudan and Eritrea discussing a number of possible measures. The Holot detainees have decided that, starting today, they will no longer sign in as required, will not leave the facility except in case of emergency or unusual situations, and will stop doing any work within the compound.

Protest leaders said they will intensify the sanctions later, but stressed that at no point will violence be used.

Some 2,400 people now stay at Holot, about 70 percent of them Sudanese citizens, with the rest from Eritrea. Under the amendment passed last year to the Prevention of Infiltration Law, Holot residents must sign in three times a day – morning, noon and night. Failure to do so means the Population, Immigration and Border Authority can order them transferred to Saharonim Prison for a limited period. Moreover, they must be on Holot’s grounds between 10 P.M. and 6 A.M.

The Population Authority offers various jobs of limited scope within the compound, for which detainees receive low wages. If they work more than a specified number of hours, the living stipend they receive is reduced.

The asylum seekers are protesting the very existence of the Holot facility, but also the conditions there. They say that although the state refers to it as an “open facility,” there is no substantial difference between Holot and Saharonim. Among their complaints is that the Population Authority rarely grants them permits to leave the facility for more than a few hours and miss signing in. They also claim that the medical services are insufficient and there are no educational services, although these had been promised.

“This whole story is happening because of the difficult conditions here in Holot and the behavior of the Population and Immigration Authority,” said Mutassim Ali, a leader of the asylum-seeker community who has been in Holot for a month and a half. “They say that it’s an open facility with all the conditions needed, but that’s not what’s happening. From our perspective, Holot is an illegal place,” he said. “We don’t know why we’re in prison, or what we have done to be in a place like this.”

Ali said the residents are aware that their protest is likely to draw a harsh response. “We know they can transfer us to Saharonim, but from our perspective there aren’t such great differences between Holot and Saharonim. Let them transfer all of us together, all 2,369 people.

“We cannot remain silent about what’s happening here,” he added. “No one wants to listen or pay attention to us. We will bring about our own solution – no one else will. We’re not waiting for the Prison Service or the Interior Ministry anymore.”

Around six months ago, shortly after Holot was opened, tens of thousands of asylum seekers took to the streets to protest the government’s policy toward them. At the height of the protest, there were mass demonstrations in front of the Knesset in Jerusalem, and in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square and on the promenade, but the momentum faded after a few weeks. This time, protest leaders say, they are in it for the long haul.

“Our protest is against government policy, against its plans to put people who aren’t criminals in jail for a period where no one knows how long it will last,” said Ali. “Once we were freed in Tel Aviv. Now it will be very different, because there’s nothing worse than being in a jail. We will not stop the protest until there is a solution. We don’t want to stay in Holot anymore.

“We are starting our struggle again and we’ll see how far we get,” Ali concluded. “This is only the beginning.”

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