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The Anti-Infiltration Law Changed the Lives of These People

Written by: Adv. Asaf Weitzen

For just over three years, I have been working for the Hotline for Refugees and Migrants as a lawyer. Almost throughout this entire period we have been dealing with the Anti-Infiltration Law and its negative impact. The Supreme Court has already voided the law twice following petitions we submitted together with other organizations. Perversely, the Knesset has also resurrected the law twice.

The Anti-Infiltration Law has received a great deal of publicity. Many view it as an unnecessary evil and a threat to the democratic principles of Israeli society. Others consider it as “a central pillar of Israel’s migration policy”, or excuse it in some other nonsensical way. Since the law is much more than merely a set of pompous words for anyone working and volunteering at the Hotline, I think it’s appropriate to share three stories of people whose lives were changed because of the law. One story for every metamorphosis of the law.

The story of Amy (real name was changed)
Amy is an Eritrean asylum seeker. She entered Israel in early June 2012 and was held in the Saharonim facility for over a year as a result of the third amendment to the Anti-Infiltration Law. She was jailed without a trial, without any attempt made to expel her, and on the other hand, without her application for refuge examined or decided upon throughout this entire period.

Amy, 24 years old, was one of the petitioners against the first version of the law. Throughout the time in which the court examined the intricate question of whether jailing people without a trial for a period of three years is constitutional and shall be allowed, Amy was locked up. In one of my visits to meet her in Saharonim, after a year in jail and when again I could not guarantee her date of release (if at all), she came out crying and broken. A young warden saw her sad and conducted the following dialogue with me:

Warden: “How come Amy is down?”
Me: “Because she’s been jailed for over a year and we could not promise her release anytime soon”.
Warden: “And does she not want to return to Eritrea?”
Me: “No”.
Warden: “Why is that?”
Me: “Since terrible things are bound to happen to her there. That is also why the State of Israel does not try to send her back there”.
Warden: “So how come she’s in jail???”

Finally, after endless legal procedures we conducted on her behalf (in parallel to the constitutional petition), the District Court released Amy because her application for asylum had not been examined on time (Amy’s application was rejected after one year in jail). Several months later, Sweden recognized her as a refugee and she moved there with the help of the UNHCR. I recently spoke to her over Skype and she told me that she is well, learning the language and – for the first time in her life – that there is a state that takes care of her and grants her a place in the world. She added that she would like to come and visit Jerusalem, since she had heard it is very pretty, and did not get to see it during the time she was in Israel. Amy will never get back the year that she spent imprisoned in Israel.

The story of Pomidin
Like Amy, Pomidin also entered Israel in June 2012 and was held in detention facilities until about two months ago. Pomidin comes from the Darfur region of Sudan, where he had to abandon his studies of Economics and flee. In his first year and a half in Israel he was jailed in Saharonim Prison while his application for asylum was pending (actually there hasn’t been a decision on it until today). This is not unique to Pomidin’s case. Until today, not a single decision has been made regarding the many asylum applications submitted by those who have fled Darfur.

After Pomidin had spent a year and three months in jail, the Supreme Court annulled the Anti- Infiltration Law in September 2013. According to the ruling of the court, Pomidin’s life was about to change from being jailed without a trial into “a life of freedom and hope for the future” (quoted from the court’s decision). However, the Ministry of the Interior did not follow the court’s order to release all those imprisoned in Saharonim under the Anti-Infiltration Law, and instead dragged on for three months until a new amendment was passed, then transferring him in a cold winter night in mid-December to the “open” facility Holot, which had been built just across from the Saharonim Prison. After two days in Holot, Pomidin walked out with several hundred of other asylum seekers in a march to Jerusalem that came to be known as the Freedom March. As a penalty, he was jailed for three additional months in Saharonim – again without a trial. Several days later we served an appeal against his imprisonment in Saharonim and his transfer to Holot. But the courts stalled the hearings on our appeal for about six months (there were four hearings in the District Court, as well as two appeals to the Supreme Court, and during all that time Pomidin continued to be held in Holot). Finally, after the second appeal to the Supreme Court, the state retreated and announced Pomidin would be released.

But the release of Pomidin after two years of imprisonment did nothing to change the conduct of the Ministry of the Interior. Only after another appeal to the Supreme Court was made, was another group of 180 asylum seekers – with very similar stories to Pomidin’s – released following two and a half years in jail.

The story of Mutasim
Mutasim Ali was fortunate. He arrived in Israel prior to the amendment of the Anti-Infiltration Law, and was therefore jailed “only” for four and a half months. The residency permit he received did not grant him the right to work, which would have been essential for him to sustain himself in Israel. But against all odds, Mutasim successfully learned Hebrew, made Israeli, Sudanese and Eritrean friends, and in parallel volunteered for the refugee aid organization ARDC , which he was eventually appointed to manage. Mutasim had attempted to apply for asylum in 2010, but the Ministry of the Interior had replied that he was not entitled to submit a request since he was receiving “group protection” as a Sudanese by default. By the end of 2012, Mutasim finally decided to file a request for asylum none-the-less, but until today no decision has been given in his case. All of this did not stop a bureaucrat at the Ministry of the Interior to summon Mutasim to Holot in January 2013. The summons was issued without providing reasons for the decision and without hearing Mutasim or considering his past and present life in Israel. How come? Because the newly amended Anti-Infiltration Law made it possible. Subsequently, an appeal to the District Court was rejected, which is why Mutasim has been held in Holot since early May 2014. Thus, overnight, Mutasim turned from an efficient, volunteering and working man, who was sustaining himself and helping his friends, into a man dependent on an “allowance” of $130 a month, expected to stroll around aimlessly throughout the day, while being monitored and disciplined by a regime of wardens and Interior Ministry bureaucrats. While it is true that the Supreme Court has already annulled the fourth amendment to the Anti-Infiltration Law, based on which the Holot facility was established, Mutasim is still locked up there: The Knesset passed yet another amendment to circumvent the most recent Supreme Court ruling and to keep Holot running. Mutasim appealed to the Supreme Court following the ruling of the District Court. And if the directive for a temporary moratorium on the operation of Holot remains intact for long enough, Mutasim will be released along with everyone else who is currently being held there.

Any other option would simply be a crime against him and against all of us.

Every additional day which Mutasim remains in Holot is in contempt of previous Supreme Court rulings mandating the closure of the facility in its current form of operation. It is also in contempt of our heritage, of the commitment taken on by the State of Israel when it signed the Convention on Refugees, and of the basic values that shall be common to all of humanity.

Amy, Pomidin and Mutasim have spent an accumulative term of four years in jail. The time in prison has harmed them in a terrible and irreversible way, has cost the Israeli tax payer a fortune and resulted in nothing, neither with regards to the difficult situation in South Tel Aviv, nor to the “Jewish identity” of the state. Ahead of the hearing on our third constitutional appeal, it is time to stop this madness. It is time to stop locking up asylum seekers and time to think of real and just solutions.