Israel Weighs Using Empty Detention Facility to Quarantine Returning Foreign Workers

Minister says plan considered to use Holot center, which formerly housed asylum seekers, to isolate farm workers who were abroad

Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis
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An inmate leaves the Holot detention facility as it is shut down, December 2018.
An inmate leaves the Holot detention facility as it is shut down, December 2018. Credit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz
Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis

The government is considering turning a large detention facility that previously housed asylum seekers into a facility for quarantining foreign farm workers returning to Israel, Public Security Minister Amir Ohana said Monday.

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In response to a query submitted by Shas lawmaker Moshe Arbel, Ohana said the ministry was deciding what to do with the Holot compound in the country’s south, which has stood empty for over two years. Ohana stated that given “the need for a creative response to the current needs resulting from the coronavirus pandemic,” one of the proposals the ministry was considering was “to use the facility to isolate [foreign] agricultural workers returning to Israel.”

Arbel had suggested repurposing the compound to serve the population of the Ramat Negev Regional Council, after the country’s prison service announced that it was not interested in maintaining its use.

“The cost of erecting the facility with taxpayers’ money … and the continuing payment of real estate taxes on it even though no one seems to want it, require some serious thinking as to the significance of the public funds,” Arbel said. “The facility, which is very well equipped, could be used for many types of business ventures, as Mayor Eran Doron has suggested. Thinking out of the box is crucial in such cases.”

The Holot facility, located near the Nitzana crossing on the Egyptian border, cost about 320 million shekels ($88.9 million at the time) to build, and was opened in December of 2013. The government used it as a detention center for asylum seekers from Eritrea and Sudan who were slated for deportation. The government allocated 200 million to 250 million shekels a year to run the place until it was closed in March of 2018.