Rejected Asylum Seeker Languishing in Israeli Prison for Past Decade

Israel tried to deport the man back to the Ivory Coast after rejecting his asylum request, but he refused citing fear for his life. Now he appealed anew to a court for his release.

Migrants' detention facility Saharonim in southern Israel, 2016.
Eliyahu Hershkovitz

An asylum seeker from Ivory Coast has spent the past decade behind bars after refusing to leave despite the absence of a valid visa, citing fear for his life in his homeland.

The man, identifiable only by his first initial, A, is considered one of the longest incarcerated foreign nationals in Israel. Israel's Interior Ministry has rejected his request for asylum.

He has filed a request for release with Be'er Sheva District court.

An Ivorian national, A. arrived in Israel in February 2006 with a passport from the African nation of Guinea, a country with which Israel has just now restored long severed diplomatic relations. The man has said he was born in Guinea and later migrated with his father to Ivory Coast.

A has said that he witnessed his own father murdered due to a dispute in Ivory Coast and cited this as the reason why he fears for his life and refuses to return to the country.

Israel put A. behind bars after rejecting his request for asylum. Israel's court system has repeatedly extended his detention over the years, citing his refusal to be deported.

Israel has tried to deport him. In 2008 he refused to board a plane. Two years later he was flown to Ethiopia then flown back after he refused there to get on a flight to Ivory Coast.

He was released from prison in 2014 for four months when a court found he had been held for too long and pointed to “the lack of a chance to deport him.” The court said then “this is an inconceivable situationit’s a disproportionate period of time to keep someone in custody for deportation and exceeds every reasonable standard.”

But A. wound up back behind bars after rejecting efforts by officials to arrange for his deportation, later launching legal efforts to win his freedom.

The Ivorian said during a session at the Be'er Sheva court last week he had despaired of sitting in prison.

“I’m here because my life is in danger in Ivory Coast. I’m afraid to go back there and that’s why I’m in prison for 10 years. I want Israel to save my life,” the man said.

Judge Ruth Avida said Israel wasn’t willing to accept him and asked if he’d be willing to return to Ivory Coast.

“I agree but I’m afraid for my life,” he said. “If the Israeli government buys me a ticket to Ivory Coast I’ll go there because I’m tired of being in Jail. No matter what happens to me there, I’ll go back.”

State attorney Avihai Kahana said the man’s consent to return to his country changes the picture and asked the court not to release him and instead allow time for the state to prepare for his deportation.

But A.'s attorney, Asaf Weitzen of the Refugees and Migrants Hotline, said nothing has changed, as the man has agreed in the past to return to Ivory Coast, then changed his mind.

Weitzen said that after 10 years there was no justification for keeping the Ivorian man in prison.  He said Israel could try to deport him again after his release. The court has not yet reached a decision.

“Weitzen told Haaretz: It’s appalling to think that a man has been kept in prison for 10 years without the right to legal aid from the state.”  He said it was "horrifying that the court, which should have examined if the continued imprisonment advances the man’s deportation, and whether it was proportionate and reasonable, authorized the detention every month."

"Detention must be limited and a time set to it, if not by law then at least by the courts,” Weitzen said.