Hundreds of Asylum Seekers Protest Imprisonment by Israel Outside Jail

Carrying signs saying 'Stop The Deportation' and 'Set Our Brothers Free,' the protesters are demanding the release of those who were arrested for refusing to leave Israel willingly

Asylum seekers protest during a march from Holot detention, February 22, 2018
Meged Gozani

Hundreds of asylum seekers marched on Wednesday from the Holot detention facility to Saharonim Prison in southern Israel on Thursday in protest of the government's deportation policy and imprisonment of asylum seekers earlier this week. 

Carrying signs saying "Stop The Deportation," "We Are Not Criminals" and "Set Our Brothers Free," the protesters demanded the release of those who were arrested for refusing to leave Israel willingly.

They are also demand that no further be imprisoned for declining to leave for Rwanda, a country that agreed to receive migrants from Israel, or their homeland. This follows the hunger strike which asylum seekers in Holot commenced Tuesday night.

Job, an Eritrean asylum seeker staying in Holot, an open-detention facility, for a year now, with an overlapping stint in Saharonim Prison for three months, said he's been in Israel for six years now.

Aslyum seekers in protest march from Holot detention facility to Saharonim Prison

"We're protesting because we want our [asylum] requests to be taken seriously, and not to be sent to Rwanda or Uganda. There's not peace in Eritrea now, there's a tyrant. If there was peace, we wouldn't stay here one more night."

Walid, another asylum seeker from Eritrea, voiced similar sentiments. "I've been in Israel for five years. I walked here from Egypt. I lived on the streets while I worked in construction and event halls." Walid stressed he would only leave for Eritrea, "But things are bad there now."

The seven Eritreans who were summoned for pre-deportation hearings Tuesday morning were taken to Saharonim Prison immediately afterward, apparently due to fear they would flee. They had previously been held at the Holot open detention facility and were among the first to receive deportation notices a month ago. Two of them survived torture in Sinai en route here, but their asylum requests were denied.

Because they refused to leave Israel for either Eritrea or Rwanda, they will be held at Saharonim indefinitely unless they change their minds, in line with new rules issued by the Interior Ministry’s Population, Immigration and Border Authority.

This is the first time asylum seekers have been jailed for refusing to leave Israel.