Forbidding Asylum Seekers From Living in Tel Aviv or Eilat Reeks of Racism

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A released asylum seeker leaves the Holot detention center, August 25, 2015. Credit: Ilan Assayag

Jaafar, an asylum seeker from Sudan, was released from the Holot detention facility this week after being held there without trial for a year and eight months. His release follows a Supreme Court ruling which determined that no individual can be detained at Holot for over a year. But a scandalous decision by Interior Minister Silvan Shalom forbidding released detainees to take up residence in Tel Aviv or Eilat, and an even more outrageous one by Arad Mayor Nissan Ben Hamo to station police and municipal inspectors at the entrance to his city, which is meant to prevent former detainees from even visiting, have forced Jaafar to spend his nights in a public park in Be’er Sheva.

The fate of many of the 1,178 Sudanese and Eritreans released from Holot this week was no different. Many found themselves leaving prison forbidden from going to the cities in which many of their friends live, and where they could find work or at least a place to stay for a night.

The interior minister gave the signal, and Arad’s mayor was quick to follow. Even if the interior minister has the authority to put conditions on residence permits in certain cases, this move is wrong. Shalom decided to compete with his predecessor Eli Yishai on cruelty and racism toward asylum seekers, and populism for the people of south Tel Aviv, whose problems indeed are in need of solving, but not on the backs of asylum seekers.

The decision to prohibit former detainees from residing in certain cities might not contradict the Supreme Court’s orders regarding Holot, but it certainly contradicts the spirit of their decision. This isn’t the kind of release the justices had in mind. Ben Hamo took the evil spirit loosed by Shalom and ran with it. Deploying personnel to prevent people of a certain color from entering a city reeks of racism.

On Thursday, it was revealed that the Population and Immigration Authority will soon be able to summon any Eritrean or Sudanese citizen to Holot, regardless of the amount of time they’ve been in Israel. Thus the government continues to abuse African asylum seekers without offering any kind of solution. They have no access to any naturalization process, their formal requests for asylum go largely neglected, many of them cannot work legally, and now entire cities have been closed off to them.

What does Israel think will come of them? What does the interior minister think will come of his inhumane policy? Asylum seekers, and Israeli citizens along with them are entitled to answers for these disturbing questions.

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