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The unbearable lightness of denying a man of his freedom

When an Israeli citizen is suspected of a crime a court needs to prove, beyond any reasonable doubt, that the defendant has indeed committed the crime, in order for him to be convicted, and if required – denied of his freedom. When this defendant is a refugee, the state – through the Ministry of Interior – uses this sanction in a wider manner than usual. This happens especially in the criminal procedure where freedom has no price or date. Within this procedure, it is possible to hold refugees without any conviction in a court for an unlimited amount of time.

A’s story is a bit different than others, and therefore especially infuriating. In it, one can recognize once again that unbearable lightness in which a man’s freedom is being denied from him. A is an asylum seeker from Darfur who arrived in Israel in 2012. Four months ago the Ministry of Interior instructed A to appear at the Holot detention facility, and yet – the same Ministry had declared it will stop summoning Darfurians to Holot this last October. The Ministry’s statement probably originated from an understanding that this group of people from west Sudan, whom are being denied of any updates regarding their refugee status requests for years now, are the first to be inevitably recognized as refugees by the state. A did not appear in Holot as requested. He was caught and sent to Saharonim jail for a period of 60 days, after which he was supposed to be transferred to Holot for another whole year.

The question is – why was A summoned to Holot after the Ministry of Interior had already committed to stopping all such procedures? This is where we meet the disregard of state representatives whenever it comes to denying freedom from asylum seekers.

When A came to us and asked that we help him get out of Saharonim, we approached the court with a demand from the Ministry of Interior to conduct a recognition interview, and if found he is indeed Darfurian, A must be immediately released. This was the Ministry’s response:

“Although the detainee is a Sudanese citizen, there is no indication that he is indeed Darfurian in origin and therefore, there was no wrongdoing in the Ministry’s conduct and in its issuing of a custody warrant”.

It is important to note that the Ministry of Interior holds A’s passport. The passport clearly states his birthplace, which a simple Google Maps search shows is located in Darfur. Nonetheless, the Ministry of Interior decided that a passport is not indication enough for conducting a recognition interview. If so, we are curious to know which indication will satisfy the Ministry, without requiring any court intervention.

Luckily for A, judge Krispin-Boker has exceptionally demanded that he will be interviewed for formal recognition immediately, since the lack of review for the claims brought up in our court appeal is denying A’s freedom in such a manner, which should not be allowed in the state of Israel:

“Since the right being denied of the detainee is his freedom, it is expected, at the very least, that he will be granted a new hearing, clarifying the question of his citizenship and the justification for holding him in custody”.

The Ministry of Interior had no other choice than to conduct a recognition interview the day after this was requested by judge Krispin-Boker. Following the interview, A was released and regained his freedom.

A’s case is only one of many, as Israel holds hundreds of asylum seekers who turn out to be wrongfully and randomly detained after some inspection. The Hotline for Refugees and Migrants is doing its best to aid these people, but there are still many more out there we cannot reach. We sense that the Ministry of Interior must take in the words of Judge Menachem Alon:

“The imprisonment of a man behind bars without clear legal justification, even for one minute, is as severe as doing so for one hour, 72 hours, and any other period of time. There is no measure or rate for the value of human freedom. Denying it for any period of time is a criminal offence and a civil wrongdoing.”

Assaf Yinon is a volunteer at the The Hotline for Refugees and Migrants.

(Photo – Malin Fezehai)