Israeli Authorities Are Severely Violent Toward Asylum Seekers, NGO Report Warns

Migrants testify to verbal and physical abuse and denial of rights by Population Authority staff, according to new report by Hotline for Refugees and Migrants

Asylum seekers in Israel, December 17, 2018.
Tomer Appelbaum

Asylum seekers have suffered violence at the hands of Israel's Population Authority inspectors, and in some cases were not allowed to submit an asylum request, or were denied access to a telephone as required by law, according to a new report by the Hotline for Refugees and Migrants.

The NGO's 2018 annual report, publicized on Sunday, cites testimonies from four asylum seekers who said they were beaten by the authorities, in addition to testimonies from a group from Sri Lanka who fled that country due to political persecution but were not allowed to submit an asylum request after they arrived in Israel – a violation of international law.

Thus, for example, Dmitry (a pseudonym), a Ukrainian national who has lived in Israel for several years and tried to regularize his status as the partner of an Israeli citizen, reported that he had suffered physical and verbal violence from immigration inspectors.

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While living in Israel Dmitry became addicted to drugs and criminal charges were filed against him, but in the end he entered rehab and continued the process in a hostel. He wanted to continue treatment but this was conditioned on his legalizing his status in Israel. But when he went to the Population and Immigration Authority offices, he was arrested and incarcerated in the Givon Prison, from which he was due to be deported.

Dmitry called the Hotline and a lawyer visited him in jail. He told her that in the first attempt to deport him, at the end of March 2018, one of the immigration officers cursed him, pushed him and slapped him across the face twice.

“I turned to enter the vehicle, but he [the inspector] stepped on my feet from the back, hard, and pushed me into the car," Dimitry testified, according to the NGO report.

"About 20-30 seconds later, the inspector rushed into the car. I was sitting down ... and suddenly he gave me two slaps to my face with an open hand. I asked for his last name but he refused to tell me. I told him that I don’t understand why he is beating me and why he’s using his authority this way, and he replied that I wouldn’t be able to prove anything anyway.”

Asylum seekers in the Israeli city of Petah Tikva, February 3, 2019
Ilan Assayag

During the second attempt to deport him, in late May 2018, the inspectors showed him a video of a young man from Africa being deported while shackled, crying and humiliated before a plane full of passengers.

“Do you think you’re a hero?" the inspector asked. "We got the African out and we’ll get you out too.”

In response to this testimony a Hotline representative contacted the Justice Ministry's custody tribunal, asking that it instruct the Israel Prison Service to send inspectors to Givon so they could take Dmitry’s testimony and allow him to file an official complaint. The tribunal indeed ordered that he be allowed to submit the complaint – but he was deported before he was given a chance to do so.

There is no independent agency to which complaints can be submitted concerning violence by Immigration Authority inspectors (in contrast to complaints involving the IPS or Israel Police).

Issa, a citizen of Niger who was deported from Israel, told the Hotline, “The flight was in the morning, at 8 o’clock. At 6 o’clock, this man, he comes to me to ask me if I want to go or not. I said ‘no’ and he beat me and beat me, until he got tired of beating me. I cried. He said ‘If you die you will go. Die. Cry as you want.’"

Added Issa: "After they put me on the plane, I cried there and they [gagged] my mouth. They put something in so that I cannot cry. Only when we arrived in Ethiopia, did they unshackle me and let me go.”

A similar story was told by Dialo (a pseudonym), whom the authorities tried to deport to the Ivory Coast in March 2018. He says that he was beaten by three inspectors at the airport after he refused to get on the plane. Ultimately Dialo was not deported, and the case involving the complaint he had filed about the violence was closed. The Hotline appealed the closure; a decision about the case is due to be rendered in July.

For his part, Yaya (a pseudonym), also from the Ivory Coast, told the Hotline that during the attempt to deport him he was shackled, beaten and choked. In the end, he was also taken off the plane and sent back to the detention facility.

Ben-Gurion International Airport border and passport control authority, Feb. 27, 2019.
Ofer Vaknin

In another case described in the NGO's report, a border control officer refused to allow a group of asylum seekers to file a formal request for asylum in Israel. The 13 people from Sri Lanka, 11 men and two women, landed in Israel on October 28. When they arrived, they were detained at passport control and taken for an interview, during which the leader of the group explained that they had fled for their lives and were seeking protection. However, the group was told that it would be deported, regardless of whether it applied for asylum.

Fifty-one days of detention

The new Hotline report confirms that 13 individuals were indeed political activists who had been violently attacked while in Sri Lanka by supporters of the regime, whose lives were threatened and who were facing prosecution.

On the day of the planned deportation, the Hotline by chance found out that the group was being held in the Population Authority's Yahalom detention facility at Ben-Gurion International Airport. A representative from the NGO's legal department visited them and appealed their deportation to the detention review tribunal in Tel Aviv. The tribunal instructed the authorities to allow them to file an asylum request and forbid their deportation.

Subsequently, regime changes in Sri Lanka led the group to decide to return to their homeland after 51 days of detention in Israel.

From the behavior of the state in this case, says the Hotline report, the question arises as to whether there have been other cases in which asylum seekers were deported to a place where their lives or liberty were in jeopardy because of the authorities' refusal to let them submit an asylum request upon arriving at Ben-Gurion airport.

This case also raises questions about the asylum seekers’ rights while they were detained. “I asked one of the guards to access my luggage so I can take out some clothes and he agreed," one member of the group said.

"When we reached the storage room, I opened my bag and took out my phone and tried to call my wife because they did not allow us to use the facility’s phone to make a call. The guard took my phone, led me to a nearby empty room, shut the door and slapped me hard twice. After this, he took the SIM card from the phone, broke it in two, and then threw the phone at the floor and broke it. Afterward, he brought me back to the room where I was held."

An affidavit relating to this case was given to a Hotline attorney on October 31, 2018. According to Immigration Authority regulations, “A detainee will be allowed to use the public phone available at the facility once a day, for a reasonable duration."

The NGO's report stressed that "until November 5, 2018, members of the Sri Lankan group were held at the Yahalom facility incommunicado, without access to their phones and with no contact with the outside world. The asylum seekers were denied the right to call their relatives and update them on their situation."

According to Hotline CEO Dr. Ayelet Oz, “This year, too, the report discloses the reality that the Population Authority is attempting to hide from the public eye. The data gathered indicates that authority inspectors feel that they can treat migrants and refugees with severe violence, prevent access to the asylum system in complete contravention of the Refugee Convention, and imprison families behind bars without examining suitable alternatives, only because the group in question is vulnerable and does not wield political power."

The Population and Immigration Authority did not respond to queries.

The lead photograph accompanying this article was changed after publication, as it did not accurately reflect the content.