Israel to Pay Out Over $120,000 to African Asylum Seekers Jailed Illegally

These five men were entitled to temporary resident status in Israel. Instead they were locked up in the Holot detention facility

FILE PHOTO: African migrants clash with Israeli soldiers after they left Holot detention center in southern Israel and walked towards the Border with Egypt near the southern Israeli Kibbutz of Nitzana, Friday, June, 27, 2014.
AP

The state is going to pay five asylum seekers from Sudan 425,000 shekels ($121,429) each because they were sent to the Holot detention facility and held there for lengthy periods even though they were entitled to temporary resident status in Israel. The level of compensation was set in a mediated agreement.

The five entered Israel a decade ago and were among the first 600 Darfurians in Israel, whom the Olmert government agreed to grant temporary resident status for humanitarian reasons. They were on an eligibility list that was given at the time by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to the Interior Ministry, but they never received the promised status.

Even as it agreed to compensate the five Sudanese, the state asked to dismiss the compensation claims of six other people with similar stories who are represented by a different law office. The state never updated that law firm about the compensation arrangements despite the similarity between the cases. In a statement submitted to the Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court by attorneys Guy Brand and Noa Diamond, who represent the second group of Darfurians, the two accused the state of bad faith and of inequitable and dissimilar conduct. The court asked the state to respond to the claims within a week.

The story of one of the asylum seekers was published in Haaretz in January 2015. Ahmed, today 44, entered Israel in June 2007. After he was told about the cabinet decision, he went to the Interior Ministry in Tel Aviv but was unable to get in to meet with representatives of the Population, Immigration and Border Authority. Petitions to the Bnei Darfur association and the UN refugee commission also proved fruitless. Thus, all these years he was left with a visa that offered temporary protection from deportation, but without the rights of a temporary resident.

He lived in Eilat for six years and worked in one of its hotels, until he was summoned to Holot, at which point he had to leave his home, his job and his friends.

Ahmed, who was erroneously sent to Holot in 2015.
Ilan Assayag

Three years ago, after a year at Holot, he approached the law firm of Smadar Ben-Natan, complained of a deterioration in his medical and emotional state, and asked for help to obtain his release from the detention center. The law firm contacted the population authority, which admitted its mistake and hastened to release him. Two years ago he sued the state in Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court for 2.5 million shekels for unlawful detention.

“As a result of hisincarceration at Holot, his life was cut off,” the suit said. It also noted that his diabetes got worse because of the poor nutrition at Holot, his blood pressure went up and the cold made him ill. “His meager savings were wiped out because he was forced to buy food appropriate for his medical condition, and the food supplied at Holot was totally unsatisfactory,” the suit argued.

The lawsuit also argued that his mental and emotional state suffered. After his release, he suffered from depression and had to live with friends until he was able to find another job in Eilat. He could not afford therapy even though he needed it.

When his story was first publicized by Haaretz, the population authority claimed that he had never clarified at any point “that he was a native of Darfur – even when he was summoned to Holot and during his stay there he never made this claim and never submitted a request for a visa on this basis, which is strange in and of itself.” But Haaretz has documents indicating that Ahmed had indeed made it clear to the authorities that he was a Darfurian long before he was detained.

Attorney Michal Pomeranz, who together with Maysa Rashid and Galit Lubetzky represented those asylum seekers that the state will compensate, said Monday, “These lawsuits were filed because of the serious and aggravating negligence of the population authority. We’re talking about refugees from Darfur whom the population authority imprisoned for nearly a year in Holot without bothering to ascertain basic details about them. If such an evaluation had been done, it would have been discovered that they were entitled to identity cards and weren’t supposed to be in Holot.”

The Population, Immigration and Border Authority refused to comment on the compensation arrangements.