The Population, Immigration and Border Authority has decided to stop summoning asylum seekers from Darfur to the Holot detention facility.
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The decision was made because most of the Darfurian refugees in Israel have submitted requests for asylum and received no response. In the context of a legal procedure, about two weeks ago the PIBA explained that the orders to report to the Holot facility wouldn’t be rescinded automatically, but only after a hearing to prove that the asylum seeker is actually from Darfur.
The authority added that it would also cancel summonses to Holot that have already been issued to Darfurians. In response to a question by Haaretz, the authority said that there are presently about 250 Darfurians in Holot.
The PIBA initially claimed that there is no such decision, but revealed its policy by court order to appellants in Tel Aviv. In a proceeding on September 20 the authority representative, attorney Lara Benari Rivkin, said that “there is no policy against issuing detention orders to Darfurians.” Judge Dotan Bergman demanded of the authority at the end of the proceedings to report within two weeks as to whether such a policy exists. In a response to the court on October 10, attorney Meital Leibovitz of the PIBA’s legal bureau wrote that “It has been decided, at this stage, not to send Sudanese from Darfur to the detention facility in Holot.”
The PIBA explained that the policy was formulated after a situation assessment regarding population prioritization, due to the fact that Holot is full to capacity and as a result of judicial decisions regarding the Darfurian asylum seekers.
“The figures indicate that most members of the group submitted requests for political asylum several years ago, and their requests have yet to be answered,” wrote the authority, explaining the decision not to send Dafurians to Holot.
The PIBA explained that the decision is temporary and likely to change in future. Human rights organizations said that most of the Darfurians in Israel have already spent time in Holot and therefore won’t be affected by the decision, since they cannot be summoned to the facility again.
The authority’s notice was sent as a result of appeals submitted by three Darfurians who demanded that their summons to Holot be rescinded. Two of them have been held in Holot for months, and to date the PIBA has refused to release them. In the wake of its notice, the Tel Aviv appeals court ordered the PIBA to arrange a hearing for them and to come to a decision by Thursday. Although two weeks have passed since the authority announced its policy not to send Darfurians to Holot, they have yet to be released.
Attorney Michal Pomerantz, who submitted the appeals on behalf of the asylum seekers, welcomed the new policy which she said “is finally giving expression to the proper humane attitude regarding those who fled from genocide.” But she said that “it’s regrettable that the Population Authority saw fit to announce a change of this policy only when it was required to submit an affidavit on the issue to the court. Recently as well, many Darfurians have received summonses to Holot, contrary to this policy. It isn’t clear what has been done for them and how people who are already in Holot will be compensated.” She also protested the fact that the PIBA continues to hold the appellants in Holot, without justification.
There are presently about 8,000 asylum seekers from Sudan living in Israel. The Population Authority doesn’t say how many of them are from Darfur. In response to a Freedom of Information request from Amnesty International Israel, the authority said that up until May 2,225 requests for asylum were submitted by Sudanese from Darfur, only one of which was approved. In June, four years after he requested asylum and under pressure from the court and the attorney general, the government declared that it had decided to grant refugee status to Mutasim Ali, a Darfurian, one of the leaders of the community of asylum seekers in Israel. Ali was held in Holot for over a year while awaiting a reply to his request for asylum.
An Amnesty International report that was published about a month ago revealed evidence that Sudanese army forces had used chemical weapons against civilians in the Darfur region. The organization’s researchers documented at least 32 instances since the beginning of the year in which there is a high probability that the government of President Omar Al-Bashir used chemical weapons in bombs dropped by planes, and in missiles launched from the ground.
According to the report, the bombs in Darfur disseminated “black smoke” that poisoned the air, causing death by suffocation and serious injuries. From the beginning of the year until September a total of 171 villages in the Darfur region were totally or partially abandoned in the wake of the fighting.