Authorities Destroy Vendor Stands Near Holot, Arrest Asylum Seekers

Some 60 structures demolished and dozens of vehicles impounded by police in largest operation yet against asylum seekers' stands.

Stands run by African asylum seekers outside Holot detention center.
Eliyahu Hershkovitz

A combined force of government agencies raided an area of vendor stands outside the Holot migrant detention center in the south early Wednesday. The authorities completely destroyed the stands, which the detainees had erected over the past several months without permission, and also impounded a number of motor vehicles.

The early-morning raid, a combined operation of the Ramat Hanegev Regional Council, the Interior Ministry and the enforcement division of the Israel Nature and Parks Authority, was more extensive than similar prior operations. The authorities took the action after asylum seekers erected dozens of improvised structures outside the camp in an area where they sold their wares. Detainees at Holot are required to remain inside the facility between 10 P.M. and 6 A.M. but may leave during the day.

The spokeswoman for the regional council, Adva Lloyd, said detainees at Holot had to be provided medical treatment on a number of occasions in the past after eating food sold at stands where sanitary conditions were poor. There have also been incidents in which detainees at Holot consumed alcohol in the evening and then wandered onto the adjacent highway, endangering themselves and motorists, Lloyd added.

About 60 structures were demolished in Wednesday’s operation, the council said, and about a dozen vehicles impounded. Most of the vehicles were not in road-worthy condition, serving instead as storage facilities for valuables. The vehicle batteries were also used as a power source for the merchant stands. In the past, following prior demolition operations, the asylum seekers rebuilt them within a matter of hours.

In the first such operation a week and a half ago, the Interior Ministry’s Population, Immigration and Borders Authority arrested and jailed about 22 asylum seekers on the grounds that engaging in commerce at the stands violated the ban on employment that applies to Holot detainees. The southern district prosecutor’s office, which was also involved in the raid, said more than 1,000 bottles of alcohol were confiscated and dozens of kilograms of unsanitary meat and other food destroyed.

Despite being allowed to leave Holot, the center is far removed from urban centers and the cost of bus fare is such that many of the asylum seekers choose to remain there all day. The detainees set up the commercial area outside the center to provide themselves with a place where they could spend their leisure time. Most of the asylum seekers are from northeast Africa and most of the stands sold African food, which Holot residents said they are not served within the detention center. The exterior area also had pool tables, table soccer and clothing stands.

Omar, a 25-year-old detainee from Darfur, who has been held at Holot for the past 11 months, said most of the stand operators have been taken to another detention center at Saharonim and the complex where the stands operated is now completely leveled. “The asylum seekers at Holot are not going outside the compound today because there is nowhere to sit and nothing to do there.”