Release Those Improperly Detained

Israel continues to undermine the principle of non-refoulement – a principle it claims to recognize and observe.

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African asylum seekers at the Holot detention facility protest the expulsion from Israel of others, February 17, 2014.Credit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz

With the end of Passover, the Festival of Freedom, it seems that freedom in the State of Israel is a selective matter. From the report by Ilan Lior we learn that at least 23 asylum seekers from Eritrea are still being held in the Holot holding facility in violation of the Interior Ministry’s Population, Immigration and Border Authority’s own criteria. This continues even though these individuals’ personal details were given to PIBA four weeks ago by their attorney, Osnat Cohen Lifshitz of the Clinic for Migrants’ Rights at the College of Law and Business in Ramat Gan. To date, PIBA has released only one of them.

The fact that the Interior Ministry is not upholding its own criteria is evidence of the authorities’ arbitrariness toward everything related to the asylum seekers. The ministry’s demand that the detainees’ attorney submit a power of attorney for each individual migrant contravenes the duty of the authorities to release them immediately, and not releasing them demonstrates the contempt held for their freedom.

But non-compliance with the criteria is just the beginning of this contempt, which is embodied in the amendment to the Prevention of Infiltration Law that allows the holding of asylum seekers in Holot. The criteria that were violated, under which the requirement to report to Holot only applies to Eritrean citizens who crossed the border before the end of 2008 and Sudanese who entered Israel illegally before the end of 2010, is itself problematic, harming those asylum seekers who are in Israel for several years and are also entitled to freedom.

Thus the State of Israel continues to undermine the principle of non-refoulement, which prohibits the deportation of people to a place where their freedom or lives are at risk, a principle Israel claims to recognize and observe. Detention in Holot denies the asylum seekers freedom and turns the State of Israel into a place that is unsafe for refugees and asylum seekers.

Any so-called agreement by the asylum seekers to leave Israel voluntarily lacks any genuine element of free will, because it is achieved under the threat of arbitrary detention at Holot, which is a jail in every sense, and the “exit option” that the state has presented to the court as a solution to the refugee problem is deportation in every sense.

It is hoped that the petition against the constitutionality of this detention, pending before the High Court of Justice, will soon bring an end to this tragedy. At the very least, we would expect the state to observe its own criteria and release those being improperly held.