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Police Raid Southern Israeli City in Hunt for Asylum Seekers Who Tried to Hide in Attic

The arrests were made as part of an operation in which police and immigration inspectors searched 12 businesses in Ashdod and several apartments

An Israeli police raid targeting asylum seekers in Ashdod, Israel, January 21, 2018.

Police arrested four asylum seekers in Ashdod Sunday night on suspicion of using forged visas.

The arrests were made as part of an operation in which police and immigration inspectors searched 12 businesses in Ashdod and several apartments. Altogether, they checked the visas of 96 Eritrean and Sudanese asylum seekers, of which they found four that they suspected to be forged. Those four asylum seekers were handed over to immigration inspectors.

In a statement about the arrests, police said two asylum seekers were arrested “after fleeing, upon the policemen’s entry into the business, to the attic, where they tried to hide in a shower stall.”

Police opened an investigation into the businesses that employed the arrested asylum seekers. But they said the probe focused mainly on whether the businesses were properly licensed, since they were hosting “forbidden gambling and games of chance.”

Police raid southern Israeli city in hunt for asylum seekers 'attempting to hide in attics'

The search concentrated on specific neighborhoods where most of the asylum seekers live and work. Its goal, according to the police statement ,was to “restore and enhance the sense of security of regular citizens who live in or near this area.” But police insisted the operation had nothing to do with the national campaign to deport asylum seekers that was announced earlier this month.

On Monday morning, thousands of asylum seekers demonstrated against this campaign opposite the Rwandan Embassy in Herzliya. They bore signs with slogans such as “Deportation to Rwanda = a death sentence,” “From asylum in Rwanda to trafficking in Libya” and “Black lives matter – not in Israel.” One sign asked Rwandan President Paul Kagame how much money he received in exchange for agreeing to accept them.

Last week, the Population, Immigration and Border Authority began summoning asylum seekers who are being held at the detention facility in Holot for pre-deportation meetings. At these meetings, the asylum seekers were told that if they didn’t agree to go to Rwanda, they would be jailed indefinitely at Saharonim Prison.

A group of El Al pilots recently wrote on Facebook that they wouldn’t agree to fly the asylum seekers to Rwanda. However, their statement has no practical impact, because El Al doesn’t fly asylum seekers in any case. They generally fly on foreign airlines via Jordan, Turkey and Ethiopia.

An Israeli police raid aimed at asylum seekers in Ashdod, January 21, 2018.

There are currently around 35,000 Eritreans and Sudanese in Israel, plus another 5,000 children of asylum seekers who were born here. Starting in early February, the Interior Ministry plans to tell every asylum seeker who comes to renew his two-month temporary visa that this is the last extension he will get, and he will have to leave the country within two months.

At least for now, the state won’t deport women, children, fathers of minor children, trafficking victims or people who are still awaiting answers to their asylum applications. But there is no exemption for people over 60 or people with serious health problems.