Intentional Overcrowding, Insufficient Food, Lack of Interpreters and Lack of Sufficient Access to Health Services and Legal Representation: A new HRM report provides a glimpse into Israeli detention facilities where asylum-seekers and migrants are held.
The new monitoring report from the Hotline for Refugees and Migrants reviews the four detention facilities which currently hold around 5,000 asylum-seekers and migrants: Saharonim Prison, Givon Prison, the Holot Open-Detention Facility, and the Yahalom Facility located in Ben Gurion Airport. The report is based on 72 interviews conducted with detainees by Hotline Activists, data obtained from Freedom of Information requests and official reports. The report reveals deep deficiencies in the conditions in which detainees are held. The majority of detainees are asylum-seekers from Sudan and Eritrean, who cannot be deported due to collective protection and are held in Saharonim Prison and the Holot Detention Facility near the Egyptian border under amendments to the Anti-Infiltration Law and Entry into Israel Law. The rest are migrant workers or tourists without visas held in Givon Prison in Ramle or the Yahalom Facility in Ben Gurion Airport under the Entry into Israel Law.
The major insufficiencies the report discovered are:
Overcrowding- In Saharonim respondents indicated that around ten people are detained together in each room; this happens despite the fact that refurbishment plans for the facility stipulated that only five detainees would be put in a room together. As well in Holot there are ten people to a room. A respondent told the Hotline that guards in both facilities are working to maintain that rooms will always remain at full capacity. In Givon, men have reported that there are between eight and 16 people in a room, women reported between six and 12 per room. In Yahalom detainees are often held in isolated rooms, however when there is overcrowding several families are forced to share one room.
Limitations on Freedom of Movement- In Saharonim detainees are allowed out of their rooms from 6am until 10pm within their cellblock. However, in one of the Cellblock the yard they are allowed to be in is covered all day and therefore prisoners are never able to be outside during their incarceration. In Givon 85% of respondents said they are allowed to be in the yard everyday between one to five hours – and it seems that is determined according to the available staffing of guards. In Holot, residents are allowed to leave between 6am and 10 pm, but in practice, due to the remote location near the Egyptian border, the fact that detainees are barred from working and the cost of public transportation- the vast majority of Holot residents are not able to leave the facility. Among the various barriers are biometric gates that lock automatically at 10pm. In Yahalom, there are no shared public spaces available to detainees.
Shortage of Translators- The report reveals that in all facilities there is a substantial lack of translation services when detainees interact with the representatives of the Prison Services, the Police, the Ministry of the Interior, Doctors and the Administrative Tribunals. In Saharonim for example, only three out of 26 respondents indicated that they had a translator during a medical examination. In Holot the vast majority said that they never had a translator during their doctors’ visit. As well in Saharonim and Holot, detainees noted that often times doctors are assisted by other prisoners who can translate to Hebrew or English, meaning patients have to share intimate medical details with other detainees.
Lack of Health Services- In Saharonim and Givon some of the detainees testified that although they requested medical treatment they did not receive said treatment, or the treatment they got did not help alleviate their problem. Most of the detainees in Givon and Saharonim were not even aware of mental health services or social workers that were provided. In Holot, the vast majority of those who approached the clinic reported that the treatment was not effective, that they had to wait a long time, and many times their situations worsened. According to IPS Holot has “no mental health professionals, only social workers”. Half of those who applied for treatment attested to the fact that the treatment did not alleviate their feelings of depression. In Yahalom, no medical services are provided, and most of the detainees, including families and children, do not meet a social worker or a psychologist during detention. In the event of serious medical problems, prisoners are taken to the nearest hospital.
Deficiencies in Quality and Quantity of Food- While only a quarter of respondents from Saharonim and Givon complained about the amount of food, in Holot the majority of respondents indicated that the quantities of food are insufficient, which has been an issue the Hotline has reported on since the opening of the facility. One interviewee said that “he never went to sleep hungry in Saharonim, but goes to sleep hungry every night in Holot”. Both in Saharonim and Holot it was reported that there is no alternative meals given to detainees suffering from diseases such as diabetes or celiac disease. Complaints were also raised about the quality of food, lack of vitamins and proteins. In Holot there were also many complaints about food being inedible or uncooked, which was less of a problem in Saharonim or Givon.
Lack of hygienic products, clothing- Many detainees testified that they had no clothing provided to them when the seasons changed during imprisonment, and that there was a general lack of hygiene products such as shampoo, soap and toothpaste. For example, In Saharonim, more than half of respondents said that when they requested clothing, their request was either unanswered or they received insufficient quantities (one shirt and one pair of pants). The vast majority (83%) said that they had received hygienic products upon entering prison, but many of them reported that it only lasted a short time, and then they had to purchase products from the canteen. In Givon, women testified that cleaning staff are not receiving new shoes even though the ones they had were worn and torn, and the majority of people did not even ask for clothes because they had heard no one was receiving it. In Holot the majority of respondents (77%) reported that there are inadequate hygienic products and they are forced to buy them themselves.
Lack of Basic Needs While Waiting For Hearings- When there is a hearing at the Administrative Tribunal, a meeting with a lawyer or a relative’s visit, detainees in Saharonim and Givon are waiting in areas outside the prison, where the waiting time might be as long as eight hours. In Saharonim, detainees wait outdoors in a cage-like construction, called by the prisoners as “kluba”. (The Hebrew word for “cage” is “Kluv’). 100% of those questioned on the subject reported that during their waiting period they aren’t feed, and there is no shelter from extreme weather conditions in the desert. However, during the end of 2015 there was a significant decrease in the amount of time detainees waited in “klubas”.
Access to Legal Services and Lack of Access to Facilities Monitoring- Asylum-seekers and migrants are not entitled to free legal representation from the government, except for minors and victims of human trafficking, even if they are imprisoned for long terms. The only organization allowed to visit detention centers is the Hotline- where we manage to provide legal services to only about 20% of those imprisoned. While in the past activists from the Hotline were able to freely enter Saharonim and Givon, and meet with a large amount of clients and actively monitor conditions; in 2008 Saharonim restricted the Hotline’s access to detainees followed by the same action taken by Givon in 2012. Activists are now only allowed to meet with detainees who we can name and identify by their prison id number, after receiving prior approval. Sometimes, even when the organization has set up an appointment and confirmed a visit, our employees are told that they cannot enter upon arrival. Yahalom currently has not allowed anyone to enter to monitor conditions, and no known body maintains any sort of oversight or regularly visits. In general, the Public Defender’s Office and the Bar Association have access to inspect detention facilities across the country (except for Holot), but since migrant detention facilities constitute a relatively small portion of all prisons, there is limited information coming from those organizations.
In conclusion, the report’s authors emphasize that while the UN guidelines stipulate that arrest and detention are exceptional measures which should only be used under “just cause”, it seems that Israeli policy in the last decade around detention and imprisonment frequently deviates from this instruction. Therefore the main recommendation of the report’s authors is that the Israel chooses other alternatives and formulates an immigration policy that is not based in detention. Although as long as the policy of detention is going to be used, the report recommends the following:
· Improving translation services in facilities at every meeting with representatives of IPS or the MOI, as well as during medical services.
· Improving the quality of food, and allowing detainees at Holot to bring and prepare their own food.
· Regularly dispense an adequate amount of hygienic products to detainees.
· Expand access to detention facilities to the Hotline to ensure that detainees are being guaranteed the right to representation, and as well consider expanding permission to other human rights organizations to be able visit clients in detention as well.
· Abolition of the cage holding the detainees (the “kluba”) while they wait for hearings or visits; or at the very least a significant reduction in the frequency of its use. In addition the authors recommend that while waiting, detainees are held in inside areas, as well as ensuring the waiting areas provide for basic needs (food, bathroom etc…).