Almost four years after the establishment of the Holot detention facility, the cabinet is expected Sunday to approve a proposal to close the site in four months’ time. The decision is the right one, but is being made much too late and for the wrong reasons.
The government has not recognized its obligation to protect refugees, but instead intends to impose a more extreme policy and deport the African asylum seekers who came from Eritrea and Sudan. Those who refuse to return to their homeland or leave for a third country, Rwanda, will be imprisoned indefinitely, in order to force them to change their minds.
Interior Minister Arye Dery and Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan issued a statement on Thursday, saying that they are working to close the Holot detention facility in southern Israel, “so that it will not be a convenient alternative for any infiltrator anymore.”
Holot is not a convenient place. It is an isolated facility in the desert, near the border with Egypt, surrounded by high fences – similar to a prison. Asylum seekers held in the facility must sleep there at night and report for an attendance check every evening. They live in overcrowded rooms, receiving basic meals. They are prohibited from working and are rarely able to allow themselves to leave the area.
Those held at Holot were forced to leave homes, jobs and friends, to spend a year in a facility run by the Israel Prison Service. They suffer from boredom and are wasting their time. From the first day it was built, government representatives declared officially that the facility was intended to “distance the infiltrators from the city centers.” But its main goal has been to break the spirit of the asylum seekers until they decide to leave Israel for their homelands – even if they are in danger there – or to another African state, where they do not know the fate awaiting them.
Many asylum seekers have realized that Israel has no intention of helping them. A few thousand have managed to leave for Western countries – primarily Canada, which has granted them protection and full rights. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees released a rather exceptional statement this weekend, expressing its “serious concern” over Israel’s intention to deport or jail asylum seekers. Despite being a nation founded by refugees, Israel continues to ignore its responsibility to those who now need its help, and has turned its back on them.
The government has spent over 1 billion shekels ($284 million) on building and operating Holot. Those whose only sin was looking for refuge were sent there. Over the past few years, the entry of asylum seekers into Israel from the Egyptian border has completely stopped.
Instead of wasting money on cruel and useless pseudo-solutions, it is worth giving some thought and resources to providing a normal life for the 35,000 Eritrean and Sudanese who remain in Israel, until they can return to their homelands. Israel is obligated, in accordance with the international treaties it has signed, to accept asylum seekers. It can do so without difficulty.
The above article is Haaretz's lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.
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