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New report on the Holot facility exposes grave shortcomings in food, rights violations & forms of punishment

The newly released report from the Hotline for Refugees and Migrants, titled “Rwanda or Saharonim”, exposes the situation of asylum seekers detained in Holot, some who have been there for as long as 19 months. Their detention is lawful under the recent amendment to the Anti-Infiltration Law, after two previous amendments were abrogated by the High Court of Justice. The report exposes that more than half of the detainees were sentenced by MOI clerks to at least one period of detention, varying mostly from one to three months. Many complained about the quality and quantity of food while detainees with illnesses like Celiac and Diabetes do not receive proper food for their medical condition. While the report notes an improvement in the medical services at the facility, the detainees still have to face fines, limitations on bringing food and personal belongings into the facility as well as owning certain personal items. The report reveals hard testimonies of dozens of Eritrean detainees whose asylum requests were rejected. According to the Israeli government’s new policy they will now face indefinite detention in Saharonim prison since they refuse to leave to Rwanda, knowing that they will be deported from there as well.

The report includes quotations from interviews with detainees in Holot who are about to be imprisoned in Saharonim, as well as quotations from their asylum interview transcripts, shedding light on their past experiences, as well as on the profile of the asylum requests that the Israeli MOI rejects.

19 of the 43 Eritreans did not officially file an asylum claim before they were summoned to the MOI told to leave to Rwanda. 24 others filed an asylum claim and were rejected. Of those rejected, 20 served, on average, more than a decade in slavery like conditions in the Eritrean army, before they managed to escape. Half of them were imprisoned in Eritrea, two for a whole year and three others for six months (Page 19). Their descriptions of the Eritrean prisons, including torture and prolonged confinement in underground containers (page 22), fit the descriptions that appear in international reports, including the last report of the UN Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in Eritrea.

The testimonies of these Eritreans stand in sharp contrast to the unified rejection letter of the MOI stating that “evasion of Army service or deserting army duties in and of themselves, are not sufficient to establish persecution based on Convention grounds,” ignoring the fact the UNHCR as well as courts around the world recognize Eritrean army evaders as refugees.

Asylum seekers reported that since April 2015 immigration officers offer only Rwanda as a destination. Two asylum seekers informed the Hotline that they have waited for several months now for a flight to Uganda. These two facts suggest that Uganda no longer accepts deportees from Israel.

The report continues to monitor the facility, mentioning the improvements that have been made in the last several months as well as the shortcomings. There were improvements in the medical services, the vacations from the facility, the possibility to continue accessing bank accounts and the installation of air-conditioners. Yet, there are still problems with the quality and quantity of the food and detainees are still often fined. Other failures, not connected to the management of the facility, that affect detainees include the inability of some detainees to access national insurance grants they’re legally entitled to, rejection and closing of asylum claims and delayed notifications of asylum claim rejections.

The report concludes: “Even significant improvements in the conditions of confinement will not change the heart of the problem: the conceptual infrastructure Holot was built on. It is an “open” facility where people are supposedly free to come and go as they wish, but it is run by the IPS and still a long list of rules and limitations apply to them, preventing them from taking care of their own needs, from managing their own time as they see fit, and from managing their lives in a way that suits them. This framework allows the authorities to shirk their responsibility for the condition of the detainees at Holot, claiming they are not detained, and at the same time to control their every movement and all details of their lives. There is no way to legitimize the confinement of asylum seekers at a facility in the middle of the desert.”