Israel Spending $29m Year on Open-air Prison for African Asylum Seekers

The annual cost for each detainee is 25,000 shekels, according to Prison Services; the average employment cost for a single guard is 200,000 a year.

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The Holot detention center in the Negev, May 2014.
The Holot detention center in the Negev, May 2014.Credit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz
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The Holot detention center for asylum seekers in the Negev cost 323 million shekels ($94 million) to build and an estimated 100 million annually to operate.

That, according to figures obtained from the Israel Prison Services and the Public Security Ministry by the Movement for Freedom of Information.

Of the cited cost of construction, 109 million shekels went to building, 76.6 million shekels to earthmoving and infrastructure and 55.3 million shekels to building a temporary sewage disposal facility.

As of June 17, Holot had 2,400 inmates, 70 percent of whom are from Sudan and the rest from Eritrea. According to Population, Immigration and Border Authority records, in March there were only 1,169 inmates, meaning that their numbers doubled in just three months.

The annual cost for each detainee, including food and personal items, is 25,000 shekels a year, according to a letter from the prison agency. The letter also noted that Holot has 163 guards and 62 additional employees. The average employment cost for a single guard was given as 200,000 a year.

The Prison Services letter notes that each detainee receives a daily allowance, although it does not specify the amount given. A few detainees are employed at the facility for extra pay.

According to official government figures, annual security costs for Holot are 3.1 million shekels and administration and supervision costs are 4.3 million shekels. Maintenance and furnishing cost 100,000 shekels and 300,000 shekels, respectively.

Taken together, total operating and payroll costs are an estimated 100 million shekels a year.

The director of the Movement for the Freedom of Information, attorney Alona Winograd, noted that the organization received only the specific information it requested.

“The authorities did not volunteer any further explanations or details, even though we believe that information on use of public funds should be open and transparent. One could question whether the 323 million shekels, a considerable amount, that were spent on the construction of this facility could not have been devoted to other means of dealing with asylum seekers,” Winograd said.

“What would happen if 100 million shekels were invested in south Tel Aviv to help local residents as well as refugees? How much does a new school cost? How much does a well-baby or public-health clinic cost?” said the executive director of the Hotline for Migrant Workers, attorney Reut Michaeli.

“The state doesn’t consider more effective alternatives to detention, which are much cheaper and could serve all the residents of south Tel Aviv,” where many African asylum seekers live, she continued.

“If the state wants to address the distress of all the communities living there, someone has to investigate the way it does business. The government’s policies currently get a failing grade when it comes to expenses on the public’s wellbeing. If anyone really cared about the residents of southern Tel Aviv, veterans and refugees, they would understand that any funds spent on Holot are totally wasted. Holot does not solve the problems of southern Tel Aviv neighborhoods. The facility cruelly torments the asylum seekers, while neglecting the dire conditions of services and infrastructure in these neighborhoods,” Michaeli said.

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