Court Orders Israel to Release Rejected Asylum Seeker After 10 Years in Prison

Jailing Ivorian citizen for decade for refusing to leave Israel is not proportionate, judge rules.

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Migrants at the Saharonim prison facility in 2012.
Migrants at the Saharonim prison facility in 2012.Credit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz
Ilan Lior
Ilan Lior

A court in Be'er Sheva has instructed the state to release an asylum seeker from the Ivory Coast who has spent ten years in prison due to his refusal to leave Israel. The Interior Ministry had previously rejected his asylum request.

This is the longest period any foreign citizen has been incarcerated in Israel for refusing to return to his country.

The story of A. was published in Haaretz on July 21. In last Wednesday’s District Court ruling, Justice Ruth Avida determined that holding the man in jail for a decade is not proportionate and ordered his release from the Saharonim prison within two weeks. She conditioned his release on his commitment to cooperate with the Population and Immigration Authority and settle his affairs so that he could leave the country as soon as possible. The state requested that his release be delayed while it considered whether to appeal the decision.

The Population and Immigration Authority objected to A.'s release from prison even though he was never convicted of any crime. He cannot be deported against his will.

The state argued that letting A. go free would send a message to other illegal residents that resisting deportation would eventually lead to their release. Justice Avida rejected this argument, saying, “This isn’t the place to determine how long a person must be incarcerated for the purpose of deporting him, beyond which further detention would be unreasonable. Each case must be considered on its own merits. Given the long incarceration of the appellant and the failed attempts to deport him in the past, his circumstances would send no message to others.”

Justice Avida criticized the state’s arguments that only his continued incarceration would enable his deportation. “I don’t know where the respondent’s confidence that extended imprisonment would eventually make him cooperate comes from. How much longer would it take? Ten years is disproportionate and it’s time to say that further incarceration is unreasonable and is not serving the purpose for which it was intended,” she said.

Attorney Asaf Weitzen from the Hotline for Refugees and Migrants, who represented A., welcomed the court’s ruling, saying that he expects the Ivorian to be released soon. “The ruling clarifies that the detention of migrants should be limited and of pre-set duration. The Interior Ministry should formulate appropriate directives in this matter.”

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