U.S. Congressmen Urge Netanyahu to Release Jailed Asylum Seekers After Israel Visit

A group of Democratic lawmakers who recently visited Israel and met with the Israeli premier, sent him a letter imploring him to release 280 asylum seekers from 'groundless' detention in the Saharonim prison

Amir Tibon
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Asylum seekers march during a protest outside Israeli Prison Saharonim, in Negev desert, southern Israel, Thursday, Feb. 22, 2018
Asylum seekers march during a protest outside Israeli Prison Saharonim, in Negev desert, southern Israel, Thursday, Feb. 22, 2018Credit: Tsafrir Abayov/AP
Amir Tibon

WASHINGTON - A group of Democratic members of Congress who visited Israel and met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu this week, sent the premier a letter urging him to release 280 asylum seekers from African countries who are currently being held in the Saharonim prison in southern Israel. The letter was sent on Tuesday from the office of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), who led the delegation to Israel.

The legislators said in the letter that they had met with African asylum seekers during their time in Israel and heard their stories of "flight from terrible government abuse and human rights violations." The legislators then said that they were surprised to learn that 280 asylum seekers from Sudan and Eritrea were still held at Saharonim for refusing the government plan to be deported to Rwanda. 

According to the legislators, these asylum seekers should be released in light of a recent order by the Supreme Court in Jerusalem halting their deportation. "There is no legal justification for deportation, and therefore no grounds for continued detention," the legislators stated. "We hope that these detainees will be released before the Passover holiday and that durable solutions, including in Israel, can be found," they added.

The legislators defined the issue as a "matter of our shared values" and thanked Netanyahu for meeting with them and for taking the time to consider this issue.

Netanyahu, on his part, defined his meeting with the Democratic delegation as "excellent". During the delegation's time in Israel, Pelosi also met with Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman.

Pelosi said before the visit that "“there is no greater political accomplishment in the 20th Century than the establishment of the State of Israel." She added that the members of the delegation are "pleased to be able to extend the congratulations of the American people to the people of Israel as we celebrate the 70th anniversary of Jewish state this spring.” The delegation also visited Jordan and Afghanistan.