Israel Still Sending Asylum Seekers to Holot, Despite Court Order

Interior Ministry accused of continuing to issue summonses to African migrants despite High Court decision to close detention facility and promise that it would cease issuing summonses.

Ilan Lior
Ilan Lior
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Asylum seekers can be seen at Holot after a High Court ruling to close the facility within 90 days, Sept. 22, 2014.
Asylum seekers can be seen at Holot after a High Court ruling to close the facility within 90 days, Sept. 22, 2014.Credit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz
Ilan Lior
Ilan Lior

The Interior Ministry’s Population, Immigration and Border Authority announced on Monday morning that it had ceased summoning asylum seekers to the Holot detention facility, but its officials have continued to order asylum seekers to the facility. The authority is also refusing to cancel summonses given out after the High Court of Justice ruled that the Holot center must be closed within 90 days, Haaretz has learned.

Asylum seekers who were released from the facility after the High Court ruling have been given temporary residence permits stating explicitly that they are not allowed to work, and if they are caught doing so sanctions will be taken against them.

The Population and Immigration Authority said on Tuesday evening that if any additional summonses were issued after its director general, Amnon Ben Ami, gave his instructions on Monday it was a mistake and these summonses will be canceled. The authority also said it intended on canceling all the summonses for detention issued after the High Court ruling.

Monday’s Interior Ministry order to freeze the summonses of migrants to the Holot detention facility was issued in response to a report in Haaretz that morning that the ministry was continuing to send Eritreans and Sudanese there, despite the High Court ruling ordering its closure. The instruction to halt summons will be in place until new rules are legislated or other instructions are given, said authority spokesperson Sabine Hadad on Monday.

“Yesterday I went to the visa place at 4 [p.m.],” a Sudanese asylum seeker told Haaretz on Tuesday. “[The clerk] told me ‘you have a wife,’ I told him ‘Yes, but my wife is going back to Sudan before the end of the month.’ He said to me ‘now you get Holot.’ I said ‘Why? Now there is no Holot.’ He told me ‘No, there is Holot.’ I said ‘I have a lawyer, talk to him,’ he told me ‘okay.’ But in the end he gave me 20 days to go to Holot. He told me ‘you don’t come back here again, you go straight there.’”

“The authority will say it is a mistake, a single occurrence, but for everyone who reports it there are usually many who remain silent and suffer,” said attorney Tomer Warsha, who is representing the Sudanese asylum seeker.

A Sudanese asylum seeker who received a detention order on Sunday returned to the ministry offices Tuesday after the authority’s announcement on freezing the summonses. He asked to replace the detention order with a temporary residence permit, which most Eritrean and Sudanese citizens in Israel are given – but he says he was ignored by the officials, who refused to issue him a new permit.

In its ruling early last week, the High Court ruled in favor of a petition submitted by human rights organizations, and also overturned the amendment to the Prevention of Infiltration Law, just nine months after it was approved by the Knesset. A majority of seven justices to two ordered the closure of Holot within 90 days. The panel also struck down, by a vote of six to three, the section of the law allowing imprisonment for a year of a person entering Israel illegally.

The justices ruled that these two clauses in the amendment to the law were unconstitutional, and also violated a previous High Court ruling on the matter which had overturned an earlier amendment to the Prevention of Infiltration Law a year ago.

Attorney Rozi Namer accused the authority of attempting to circumvent the High Court ruling. On Tuesday, a court ordered the release of an asylum seeker from Eritrea who was jailed at the end of August. But while the asylum seeker was released from Saharonim Prison, he was subsequently transferred directly to the Holot detention facility. Namer, who represents the asylum seeker, asked for his release following the High Court ruling, which states all those detained for over 30 days must be released. The Interior Ministry asked for more time to present a response to the request, but the court refused, stating there was no longer any legal basis to hold the man.

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