Asylum seekers being held in the Holot detention center in southern Israel continued Wednesday a hunger strike that began Tuesday, with some 700 detainees refusing meals at the facility’s dining hall.
Holot is an “open facility,” meaning that detainees are free to leave the center during the day.
Detainees planned to demonstrate Thursday morning outside Saharonim, a closed prison for asylum seekers in the same compound. Protesters will demand the release of asylum seekers who were imprisoned for refusing to leave Israel — either for Rwanda or their home countries — and that no more be imprisoned.
Seven Eritrean nationals who were given pre-deportation hearings Tuesday and refused to leave the country were incarcerated in Saharonim right after the hearings, apparently for fear they would flee.
Sisai, an asylum seeker from Eritrea who has been held in Holot for four months, said he also feared getting a deportation order because his asylum request was denied.
“No one is going into the dining room, no one is eating in their rooms, nothing,” he said. “Our friends were taken to Saharonim indefinitely, without any notice. They’ll get to us, too. It’s hard to make this choice between Saharonim or Rwanda or Uganda, it’s life-threatening for us. So we are hunger-striking. That’s what we can do.”
The Israel Prison Service confirmed that the Holot detainees have not gone to the dining rooms since Tuesday night. “The Holot residential center is an open one and the residents are permitted to refrain from eating, to go out and eat outside the facility, or to eat the food supplied to them by the facility’s management, as they choose,” the agency said.
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Two of the seven imprisoned Eritreans are survivors of a torture camp in Sinai whose applications for asylum in Israel were refused. A month ago they were among the first to receive deportation orders. In accordance with the new Population, Immigration and Border Authority protocol, one month after refusing repatriation they were transferred to Saharonim.
So far more than 100 of the 900 asylum seekers held in Holot have received notice that they must leave Israel or face indefinite imprisonment. Holot is slated for closure in three weeks, four years after it opened.
A protocol adopted by the government late last year and introduced this year allows the deportation to a third country of any refugee who did not apply for asylum by the end of 2017 or whose request was denied. A representative of the Interior Ministry agency who spoke with candidates for expulsion said they must give an answer within a month. Anyone who refuses to leave will be sent to Saharonim. She suggested leaving for Rwanda, although the documents they were given do not name the destination country.
Two weeks ago the population authority also began telling Eritrean and Sudanese nationals who are not in Holot that they will have to leave. They received their notices when they came to renew their residency visas at immigration agency offices in Bnei Brak. There the authority gives them another two-month visa, but warns them that it will not be renewed and schedules a hearing for them to make their case for remaining. Those not at risk of deportation at this stage are women, children, the fathers of minor children and victims of slavery and human trafficking, along with those who applied for asylum before the end of 2017 but have received no response.