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Human Rights Organizations Petitioned to the High Court of Justice: Provide Heat to Asylum Seekers Held at “Holot” Facility

The Hotline for Refugees and Migrants, The Association for Civil Rights in Israel, and Physicians for Human Rights petitioned today (Sunday) to the High Court of Justice, demanding the detainees at the “Holot” detention facility be provided with electric heating mechanisms in their rooms. The petitioners request that the court schedule an urgent discussion regarding the petition and issue an interim injunction stating that until sufficient heating mechanisms are provided, those held at Holot will not be required to remain in the facility at night, and furthermore, that they will be allowed to bring and utilize their own heating mechanisms in the facility.

“Holot” is located in the middle of the desert, where “the cold is harsh and bitter”, the petition stated. “In ‘Holot’ there are around 2,300 detainees who are being held against their will… the absence of electric heating mechanisms in the detainees’ rooms in the facility is not a technical difficulty or lack of planning. It is a policy. That is to say, the problem of the cold is not a problem that the respondents are unaware of, or that they have suddenly had to respond to and have simply not yet managed to do so. The ‘Holot Residency Facility’ is not an ‘ad hoc’ solution that was recently devised and has not managed to fully organize itself. It is a planned facility. It was planned down to the last detail – planned for its construction, its opening, and its populating – in 2011… The facility was building during the years 2012 and 2013. It has been operating and has been populated since December 2013. Heating mechanisms could have been installed in its rooms during or after its construction and opening… The respondents chose not to do so.”

The petition also includes statistics on the average temperatures in the area of Ketziot for the month of January, which have ranged from 14 degrees Celsius during the day to 6 degrees at night, though during the last few days temperatures have been lower than average, reaching as low as (-2) degrees this past weekend. “Despite the bitter cold, Israel Prison Services (IPS), which is responsible for the operation of ‘Holot’, has not provided and has not installed electric heating mechanisms, air conditioning systems, space heaters, heating fans, or radiators etc. in the detainees’ living quarters – and furthermore has not allowed the detainees to bring electric heating mechanisms into their rooms and make use of them.”

In the petition, attorney Oded Feller of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, who filed the petition in the name of the organizations, related also to the IPS response, according to which heaters have not been distributed due to fear of fires, and that in public areas of the facility are heated. “In contradiction to the respondents’ conception,” the petition states, “the detainees at ‘Holot’ are not children. They are mature and independent adults. Just like those who work at the facility, who manage to enjoy heat without setting themselves on fire, the detainees know how to operate electric heating mechanisms, and know how to use caution. Even if there were reason to worry regarding the use of space heaters, there are abundant kinds of heating mechanisms that do not pose a fire hazard: air conditioners, radiators, convectors, electric fireplaces, heating fans, heat projectors, heat lamps, and heaters with protective features that automatically turn off the device if it moves or falls. Israel Prison Services did not pursue any of these options. Moreover, the detainees at ‘Holot’ do not spend all day in the dining hall and rec hall, even if they are heated, these spaces cannot fit and warm all detainees for all hours. Furthermore, and most importantly, the problem of the bitter and harsh cold is especially pertinent at night – when the detainees are forced to stay in their living quarters, 10 people per room.”

The petition includes the testimony of Teshome Nega Desta, an asylum seeker from Eritrea who came to Israel in 2008, and has been held at “Holot” since February 2014. Desta states that that IPS does not allow the detainees to bring their own heating mechanisms. “From time to time, prison guards with helmets and guns conduct room searches and search detainees’ personal belongings. If they find electric heating mechanisms, they confiscate them.” Desta further testifies that because of the cold during the winter, he and his friends spend most hours of the day in their beds in their rooms. The blankets that IPS provides are not warm enough, and the detainees wear many layers of clothing in order to stay warm. “There are many people go into bed weathering the same clothes they wore outside, because they don’t have enough clothes to wear to keep warm,” he adds. “Many of my friends and I shower very little lately. The water is warm, but because the shower and living quarters are not heated, taking offer our clothes and getting dressed after showering is insufferable. The rec room in subdivision is heated, but it cannot fit all of the 280 detainees in the subdivision. The dining hall is also heated, but it is only open during meal times. “Many forgo breakfast because of the cold on the way to the dining hall,” Desta says. Although the detainees’ rooms are not heated, “all of the rooms that serve the IPS staff, the Ministry of Interior, and the clinic are heated. It’s a very large facility,” Desta states, “and while we, the detainees, go on foot in the cold from place to place, the people who work here travel inside the facility in heated cars.”

In summary, attorney Oded Feller argues in the petition that the law states that “the residents at the residency facility will be provided adequate living conditions” and that the absence of electric heating mechanisms in this bitter cold weather directly contradicts the obligation required by law and affronts the human dignity of the detainees in a severe and unlawful manner. In light of all this, attorney Feller has requested the court to arrange an urgent discussion, and to grant an interim order, such that until sufficient heating mechanisms are installed, the detainees will not be required to stay at the facility at night, and that they will be allowed to bring in and use their own heating devices.