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Israeli NGOs Petition the High Court: The State must fix the deficient conditions in the Holot Detention Facility, which are designed to discourage asylum-seekers detained there and force them to agree to “Voluntary” Deportation

The Legal Clinics at the College of Management and the University of Tel Aviv, along with Human Rights NGOs The Hotline for Refugees and Migrants, and the Association for Civil Rights in Israel filed yesterday (June 8) a series of petitions to the High Court, calling for the state to fix the seriously deficient conditions in the Holot Detention Facility. Issues include: The considerable overcrowding at the facility; the ban on personal items detainees can bring inside, despite the fact that the Israeli Prison System (IPS) does not give adequate amounts of personal hygiene products; the lack of educational and leisure activities including a lack of computers, as well as the deficient service of the Population and Immigration Authority (PIBA) offices at Holot. These issues are being added to a pending petition in relation to the prohibition on bringing in outside food into the facility.

The petition emphasizes that Holot currently has no clear Public Operating Procedure. As a result, there are no clear set of rules on its operation, and the governing body, the IPS, runs the facility as it knows how, as a prison. This is despite the fact that center was intentionally not defined by the government as a jail According to the petitioners, the problematic situation in Holot is “not accidental, and is designed to break the spirit of those staying there, in order to get them to agree to leave to a [third country] when they are offered.”

The petitions were filed on behalf of six asylum-seekers currently detained in Holot by lawyers Oded Feller from ACRI, Avinoam Cohen from the Legal Clinical Center at the Law School of the College of Management, as well as Anat Ben Dror and Elad Kahana from the Refugee Rights Clinic at Tel Aviv University.

First, the lawyers noted, each room in Holot has ten occupants, which notwithstanding master plans, should have only been six. This higher number of occupants in a cell exceeds the legally stipulated number the courts ruled on regarding detainees and prisoners in IPS facilities, both in terms of facilities aimed at holding civilian populations and other centers for asylum-seekers. Further the petition notes that detainees at Holot are routinely banned from bringing in basic personal items (such as socks, shoes, coats, towels, sheets, pillows, blankets, shaving products, soap, shampoo, toilet paper, and laundry products) and do not receive many of these items while in detention in Holot. In addition the petitioners noted the total lack of services provided to asylum-seekers by the Ministry of the Interior (MOI) office located in the facility, which routinely makes it difficult for detainees to ask for vacation; always has long lines due to limited operating hours; lacks seating or shaded waiting areas. It also has no clear criteria for granting vacations, and gives no grounds for its refusals etc…

The lawyers point out that “this is a facility operating based on coercing the most vulnerable populations; refugees and asylum-seekers, victims of genocide, trafficking and slavery, survivors of torture, rape, violence and trauma, many of whom have physical and mental disabilities, chronic illness, and are elderly etc… All of the people in the facility are Sudanese and Eritreans- who are banned from Israel because the government refuses to acknowledge their requests for asylum. The facility is locked and closed between 10pm and 6am, and detainees are forced to stand between the hours of 8pm and 10pm for a roll call. Holot is located far from any city, on the Nitzana border with Egypt”. Detainees are not allowed to work, and have no source of income other than “pocket money” of NIS 16 ₪ per day. This amount is not even enough for a one-way bus ticket to Be’er Sheva. As a result the majority stay around the facility, and spend their days idly wandering around.

Regarding the lack of educational activities, the lawyers called to allow activities based on the needs of those detained in the facility, as well as opening the classroom wings throughout the week and installing computers. Currently the facility operates only two classes, and there is no access to education or vocational training appropriate for those staying Holot. “As a result of the absence of a variety of daily activities to create routines for those in Holot, people staying in the facility have low health and morale. These are people who until a few months ago were conducting independent lives and working, and now they spend months and months doing nothing. Boredom, which leads in turn to frustration, stress and despair does serious harm to the dignity of those detained in Holot, their ability to maintain adequate living conditions, their right to education, employment, leisure, and a healthy way of life. Although state representatives denied it, the petitioners insist that the site is designed to break the spirit of those staying there, in order to punish detainees into saying that they “agree” to go anywhere offered to them, even if that place poses a danger to them.”