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Pressure on asylum-seeker to leave Israel continues: “Go back or you would stay in prison for the rest of your life”

Phone calls that the Hotline for Migrant Workers (HMW) received from asylum-seekers detained in “Saharonim” prison yesterday indicates that the efforts to force asylum-seekers into signing the “voluntary return” form continue. T, a detainee held in Ward 7, told HMW: “They tell us that if we wouldn’t agree to go back we will stay here in prison for the rest of our lives”. “Guards with handcuffed came and told us that they will take away prisoners who wouldn’t sign”, added a detainee in Ward 13.

Those testimonies are compatible with finding published in an HMW report published last week, based on 1,142 interviews HMW activists conducted with detainees, all showing that the pressure on detainees is a well-established pattern. Israeli decision makers have already declared that those pressure methods will continue under the new amendment to the Anti-Infiltration Law, which is expected to be approved by the Knesset next week.

“We can’t let the new amendment pass”, emphasized Sigal Rozen, Public Policy Coordinator at HMW. “The amendments will preserve the authorities’ ability to detain asylum-seekers, isolated in the desert. Therefore, authorities will continue to pressure refugees to go back to the place where their lives are in danger.”

In addition, the testimonies revealed that Ministry of Interior officials have already started to utilize the funds the government provides for the implementation of the new Anti-Infiltration Law expected to pass in the first week of December. “They told us that those who agree to go back to Eritrea will get $3,500”, added T., while the previous sum offered to cajole refugees into leaving was $ 1,500.

Meanwhile, a majority of 43 members of Knesset (only 17 voted against) approved the new amendment to the Anti-infiltration Law in the first reading on Monday evening (November 25). Following this approval, the Internal Affairs and Environment Committee, in charge of formulating the final amendment, held heated hearings about it.

On Tuesday, the Knesset’s legal adviser Eyal Yinon published his review of the new amendment, criticizing it. Adv. Yinon raised a concern about the nature of the ‘open’ facilities: “According the offered proposal, a detained person will have to register in roll-calls three times a day and won’t be able to leave at night”, Yinon wrote. “Due to the fact that the facility is located in the Negev, far away from any inhabited place, those restrictions might prevent almost any exit from it, and therefore make it function as a closed facility in practice”.

The committee’s discussion is expected to continue next Monday and Tuesday, while the final vote on the amendment (second and third readings) are scheduled for next Wednesday, December 4th.