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41 Asylum-Seekers Detained Since 2012 to be Released

Last month, the Hotline for Refugees and Migrants filed a case to the High Court of Justice on behalf of 138 asylum-seekers who’ve been detained for nearly 30 months without trial in Israel. In response to the petition, the Ministry of Interior released the appellants and granted them stay permits. Following the government’s decision to release the appellants, the Hotline addressed the Ministry of Justice in mid-November asking for the release of 41 additional asylum-seekers who’ve been detained for over two years, just like the 138 appellants. The correspondence with the Ministry of Justice did not yield the release of the 41 asylum-seekers. Therefore, on Sunday, December 23, Adv. Asaf Weitzen from the Hotline sent a letter to the Immigration Authority demanding the release of the 41, with the indication that otherwise, the Hotline will be forced to turn to the High Court again. In his appeal, Adv. Weitzen emphasized that the 41 asylum-seekers still in custody were detained under the same circumstances as the 138 asylum-seekers who’ve been released. In response to the appeal, the Ministry of Interior announced on Tuesday, November 25, that the remainder of the asylum-seekers who’ve been detained for over two years will be released.

The December 2013 “Freedom March” in which many of the asylum-seekers recently released participated. Photo: ActiveStills

The 138 asylum-seekers released thus far and the 41 asylum-seekers who are currently being released were jailed in Israel after crossing the border with Egypt during the summer of 2012. The asylum-seekers were first detained under the 3rd amendment to the Anti-Infiltration Law, which mandated three years of detention without trial of all “infiltrators” (asylum-seekers) who cross the border from Egypt. The law was voided by the High Court in September 2013 for disproportionately violating the rights of the asylum-seekers to liberty. In its ruling, the High Court ordered the State to immediately begin releasing the detainees held under the law and complete the release of all the detainees within 90 days. Instead, the government used the three months to pass the 4th amendment to the Anti-Infiltration Law.

The detainees under the previous law were summoned to interviews in Saharonim prison, where they were held, and told that they are about to be released. But on the last day when their detention was still legal, the day when the 4th amendment came into effect, about 500 detainees from Saharonim were instead transferred to the Holot detention center across the road from Saharonim prison. Before being transferred to Holot, the asylum-seekers were not granted the basic right of a hearing in which they could have presented their case against the government’s intention to continue to incarcerate them without trial. The asylum-seekers were shocked to find themselves in detention, yet again. Under the 4th amendment to the Anti-Infiltration Law, their detention was indefinite. They would stay in the detention center until they give up and “agree” to return to their homelands, where their lives and liberty are at risk.

After the asylum-seekers were re-incarcerated in Holot, they launched a march, known as the “Freedom March” to Jerusalem to protest in front of the Knesset and the High Court against their detention without trial and delays in examining their asylum claims. The peaceful protest was violently suppressed and Ministry of Interior clerks sentenced the marchers to three months of incarceration in Saharonim prison for daring to protest against their detention.

March For Freedom, Third Day, Jerusalem, Israel, 17.12.2013

Immigration inspectors break up the protest in front of the Knesset, December 17, 2013. Photo: ActiveStills

During the detention in Saharonim, many of the marchers launched a hunger strike, but the Israeli government did not respond to their demands. Following the end of the punitive detention, the asylum-seekers were returned to Holot, to serve out their indefinite detention. Throughout their period of detention, Ministry of Interior officials pressured on the detainees to “willingly” leave to their countries of origin (See pages 11-14 in our latest report about the Holot detention camp “Managing the Despair”). In September 2014, the High Court once again voided Israel’s policy of detaining asylum-seekers without trial for prolonged periods of time. The High Court ordered the closure of Holot within three months. Instead, the government is currently pushing through a law that would allow it to jail asylum-seekers for a period of 20 months in Holot.

The Hotline is continuing to aid the 138 asylum-seekers who’ve already been released thanks to our petition. All the asylum-seekers were released by November 11, in accordance with the government’s pledge, and granted stay permits for two weeks only. When several of the asylum-seekers went to the Ministry of Interior office in Bnei Brak to renew their visa, they were told that they first have to undergo an interview at the Ministry of Interior office at the Ben Gurion Airport. When the asylum-seekers went to the Ben Gurion office, they were told that they must send a request to schedule an interview via fax. The Hotline addressed the Ministry of Interior office at the airport on behalf of several of the asylum-seekers and the response we received stated that there are still no available dates for interviews. Without their visa, asylum-seekers cannot work and support themselves. Therefore, on Monday, November 24, we addressed the Legal Department at the Ministry of Justice demanding that the State immediately renew the visas of the 138 asylum-seekers without conditioning it on interviews.

For over two years these unlucky men were held in detention facilities under unconstitutional and immoral laws. Now it appears that even when justice was finally done to these people, it is accompanied by more abuse and inequity. The Ministry of Interior must renew these visas so that the asylum-seekers can sustain themselves and not fear another arrest.