Immigration Detention in Israel during 2017
The Hotline for Refugees and Migrants (HRM) is the only organization in Israel allowed entry into immigration detention facilities. Throughout 2017, Hotline representatives have monitored detention conditions in four facilities – Holot, Saharonim, Givon, and Yahalom. This report focuses on issues including conditions for transgender inmates separated in solitary confinement, the detention of Darfuri asylum seekers during the year in opposition to the state’s policy, and handcuffing of inmates during medical examinations. In addition, the report refers to eight legal proceedings related to detention conditions in Holot as well over-crowding in prisons.
Despite a decrease in total number of inmates over the course of 2017, there has been no apparent improvement in levels of cell crowding. Prison Service authorities have reduced the number of occupied cells rather than reduce the number of inmates per cell. In the Saharonim detention center however, there has been an improvement in the referral of inmates to the social support system and also to mental health facilities, as well as in handling inmates’ requests to call a police investigator in order to file violence complaints against border control officers.
This year, as well, the majority of those held in detention facilities are asylum seekers from Eritrea and Sudan that the Israeli government does not deport to their home country. Others are migrant workers or tourists whose visas expired or who violated the terms of their visa. Detention should be the last resort. According the UNHCR’s instructions, “detention is an exceptional measure and can only be justified for a legitimate purpose.” The Israeli government’s policy for over a decade has been to arrest and detain asylum seekers and migrants for extended periods of time, even when their deportation outside of the country is impossible. The detention of asylum seekers and migrants should be avoided, and priority given to other – more humane and economically efficient – measures, in order to control migration flows.
In light of the State of Israel’s deportation plans, the Holot facility – in which over 10,000 asylum seekers have been detained since 2013 – has been shut down. During the deportation operation, thousands of asylum seekers will be wrongly detained. The four years in which the Holot facility was operating, considering the current deportation plan, only strengthens the fact that Israel continues to use detention as a means to increase pressure for the purpose of deportation. The abuse of asylum seekers and migrants continues despite the fact that a majority of them are detained only due to government policy.
Shirley Racah, Executive Director of the Hotline for Refugees and Migrants: “For years now Israel has been arresting people as an alternative to a proper immigration policy and refuses to grant status to those who deserve it or to allow detention alternatives to those who are destined for deportation. We are standing at the cusp of an era in which asylum seekers will be imprisoned while innocent of any crime, and now more than ever it’s important to again iterate that detention does not constitute an immigration policy.”