Population, Immigration and Border Authority officers arrested 20 African asylum seekers in Tel Aviv's Levinsky Park on Tuesday evening, hours after they were released from the Holot dention facility.
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The asylum seekers were arrested despite the fact that the permits they were given with their release from Holot did not forbid them from being in Tel Aviv, just from working or living there. Representatives of the population authority had even explicitly explained to the asylum seekers before they left Holot that they could in fact enter Tel Aviv.
A few of the asylum seekers testified following their arrest that they were passing through Tel Aviv en route from Be'er Sheva to other cities in central Israel.
Dozens of asylum seekers who were released Tuesday from the Holot detention facility were still waiting helplessly outside, with nowhere to go.
The Population, Immigration and Border Authority and the Prison Service began releasing 1,178 asylum seekers from Eritrea and Sudan in the morning; half of them were discharged Tuesday, and the rest will be released on Wednesday.
The High Court of Justice has ordered the release of anyone who has been at Holot for over a year, but the Interior Ministry has forbidden the migrants from living or working in Tel Aviv or the southern resort city of Eilat.
The asylum seekers only learned of the order upon their release. Many were planning to return to Tel Aviv or Eilat, where they lived before being sent to Holot in the southern Negev region. So dozens are simply lingering outside.
“First of all, thank God we’re out of here,” Faisal, 28, told Haaretz — released detainees only provided their first names for this article. “The first stage of leaving here is an important one,” he said.
Faisal is from the Darfur region of Sudan. He said he entered Israel eight years ago and was held at Holot for a year and seven months.
On Tuesday, he was waiting at the bus stop outside the facility, with a few bags holding all his belongings. Faisal, who before Holot lived and worked in Tel Aviv, said he didn’t know where he would spend the night.
“The problem hasn’t been solved — it’s still there. Now they say Tel Aviv and Eilat are forbidden. We could choose a place to go and there too people could protest and say they don’t want us.”
Faisal said asylum seekers didn’t just want to live in south Tel Aviv or Eilat. “Where can we go? What did we ask for? We wanted asylum, that’s all."
Faisal has been phoning friends, trying to find a place to stay, but without luck.
“We talk to each other out here, asking if anyone knows someone we could go to. We have no money,” he said. “I’m here at the bus stop because I can’t return to the facility. It’s hard to find anyone who’ll take in more than three or four people. There are only small apartments.”
Faisal said he applied for asylum two and a half years ago but hasn’t received an answer. All asylum seekers from Darfur are in a similar situation, with no response to their requests.
Most of all, Faisal worries about being put back in Holot. “We don’t know what will happen,” he said. “Things will be a mess again and we’ll be rounded up and brought here.”
Mohammedin, a 26-year-old Darfurian, also has no idea where he’s going. He entered Israel seven years ago and lived and worked in Tel Aviv until being sent to Holot a year and a half ago. He says he wants to return to Tel Aviv.
“Now they tell me I can’t go there,” he said. “I have friends there, a place to stay, everything is ready for me. But now where can I go?”
As Mohammedin put it, “If I went to Be’er Sheva and found work, where would I sleep? Where would I put my stuff?” The time in Holot was tough, but he had no choice.
“I didn’t make problems. We worked in Tel Aviv before that,” he said. “They told me to go to Holot or return to my country. I can’t go back there, I have problems there.”
Meanwhile, no one was helping the asylum seekers find work or a place to stay. “Nothing,” he said. “I haven’t worked for 18 months. Where will I get money? I have nothing.”
A 35-year-old Sudanese said he was heading to Jerusalem even though he had nowhere to stay there. He has been in Israel for eight years, including one and a half at Holot. Before that he lived in south Tel Aviv and Netanya up the coast, and worked in a hotel and a restaurant.
“I checked with friends — there’s no room, and I have no money,” he said.
Several human resource companies saw an opportunity and sent people to wait for released detainees. They held interviews in the blazing heat.
“The managers sent me to interview workers and bring them to our hotels in the Dead Sea area,” said Ihab Othmana, representing the Isrotel hotel chain. “A company here supplies us with manpower. I came to do a preliminary investigation and get some of these workers to fill empty slots.”
When asked why his company wanted asylum seekers, he noted that few Israelis were interested in jobs like housekeeping and pool cleaning.
“Some Israelis take them but don’t stay on. The migrants want to make a living. They have no choice. That’s my first impression. We have some workers like that already,” Othmana said.
“I’m interviewing and we select the best ones until we fill the gaps. At Isrotel, every department needs a few workers. We can’t take 100 or 200. Once there were Romanian and Thai workers, now there are only Sudanese ones. They’re our solution.”
The head of enforcement and foreign workers at the Population Authority, Yossi Edelstein, came to Holot to supervise the release process.
“We hope they keep to the restrictions,” he said, referring to the ban on Tel Aviv and Eilat. When asked why the asylum seekers weren’t receiving help finding housing and work, he said: “They weren’t born in Tel Aviv.”