Israel Changes Criteria: Most Eritrean or Sudanese Can Be Detained at Holot

Former criteria stipulated that any Sudanese citizen that entered Israel before December 2011 (in place of May 2011 before that) could be detained; and likewise for Eritreans who crossed the border before July 2011 (formerly May 2009).

Ilan Lior
Ilan Lior
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An asylum seeker near the Holot detention center in the Negev.
An asylum seeker near the Holot detention center in the Negev.Credit: Ilan Assayag
Ilan Lior
Ilan Lior

The Population, Immigration and Border Authority has altered its criteria and will now be able to summon any Eritrean or Sudanese citizen to the Holot detention facility, Haaretz has learned Thursday, regardless of how much time they’ve been in Israel. The decision comes after a court ruling freed over 1,000 asylum seekers who spent more than a year at the detention facility.

Until now, the authority determined that only asylum seekers who have been in Israel for long periods of time could be taken to the facility. However, beginning at the end of the month, the government will be able to limit the freedom and movement of any Eritrean or Sudanese citizen, excluding asylum seekers who have already spent over a year at Holot.

The Holot detention facility, July 2015.Credit: Ilan Assayag

The Holot facility, however, can house no more than 3,360 people. Since it was opened in December 2013, the facility has not come close to that number, reaching only 2,200 individuals at its peak. A large part of the facility has gone unused. In the wake of a Supreme Court decision, Wednesday the release process was completed for 1,178 asylum seekers who had spent over a year at the facility. There are currently 587 Eritrean and Sudanese citizens in the facility.

Instructions written by Population, Immigration and Border Authority Director-General Amnon Ben Ami to the authority's head of enforcement for foreign nationals, Yossi Edelstein, noted that the new criteria were handed down from Interior Minister Silvan Shalom. Ben Ami noted that the updates sought to change the criteria “by doing away with the principle of summoning infiltrators to the detention facility in accordance with the time they spent in Israel. From now on, any infiltrator, save those protected by the court, must be taken to the facility.”

The criteria were most recently altered a month ago, before the Supreme Court handed down its ruling, and stipulated that any Sudanese citizen that entered Israel before December 2011 (in place of May 2011 before that) could be detained; and likewise for Eritreans who crossed the border before July 2011 (formerly May 2009). Human rights groups petitioned the court to prevent making the criteria more inclusive, but their petition was rejected.

The Population, Immigration and Border Authority has ramped up the issuance of summonses to Holot since the recent court ruling. In recent weeks, the authority has ordered many asylum seekers to report for preliminary hearings before being taken to Holot. Despite numerous and repeated calls from Haaretz in recent weeks, the authority has refused to disclose the amount of recent summonses issued.

In accordance with court orders, the Population, Immigration and Border Authority is required to hold a hearing for each individual summoned to Holot, in which they are afforded an opportunity to present their claims. Amendments to the Infiltration Law stipulate which sectors of the population cannot be taken to Holot, including minors, women, men aged 60 or older, fathers of minors located in Israel, victims of human trafficking, and those who could be at health risk during detention at Holot.

Roughly two weeks ago the Supreme Court ruled that detaining asylum seekers at Holot for a period of 20 months is disproportional, and ordered the Knesset to set a shorter detention time of up to one year. Supreme Court President Justice Miriam Naor noted then that these conditions would create a “revolving door” at Holot. “We must assume that after one infiltrator is released from Holot, another will take his place,” she wrote.

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