It was relieving news when last week the Israeli High Court ordered the closure of a detention facility where African asylum seekers were incarcerated for prolonged time. However, issuing summons of asylum seekers to the detention facility did not stopped.
Almost a year ago, Israel constructed ‘Holot’, the world’s largest detention center in Negev desert and the Senate issued a regulation ordering detention of African asylum seekers for one year. Despite the local and international opposition, more than 2000 Eritrean and Sudanese asylum seekers were caged in the center, subjected to three times a day head count and no work.
Numbers of demonstrations were staged by asylum seekers and Israeli activists on the streets of Tel Aviv protesting the prolonged detention without any attempt to process their claims for protection. Detainees also challenged the measure through repeated ‘freedom marches’ leaving the premises of the centers. Last June, about 1000 detainees left and walked towards Egypt-Israel border where Israeli security forces violently repressed and jailed the refugees.
Right- wing politicians have labeled African asylum seekers as ‘infiltrators’. The State has officially refused to examine individual request for asylum and prohibited them from working and transferring money abroad. Rather, the issue of asylum seekers is linked with the issue of infiltration using the 1954 Prevention of Infiltration Law. The Anti-infiltration law was created to prevent Palestinian Fedayeen or redeemers from sneaking in to Israel. On September 2013, the State amended part of this law and allowed itself to hold in prison without trial any person for three years in case they are suspected of committing any crime.
The High Court ruled out the amendment and held that “it contradicted human dignity and liberty.” The construction of ‘Holot’ and issuing of a new order for the incarceration of asylum seekers for one year was the second attempt made by the State. The new law issued on December 2013 authorizes arbitrary detention without trial. Once again, up on the petition of civil rights activists and the asylum seekers, the High Court ordered the closure of ‘Holot’ and release of detainees within three months. The court also overturned the provision that allowed one year detention and reduced it for up to 60 days stipulated by Entry to Israel Law.
The remarkable decision to close the detention facility shades some hope. However, the bigger problem still dangles. The State has never shown any significant move to individually examine claims of asylum seekers or give group protection to whom got into the country escaping grave violations of human rights. It is ironic that Israel was one of the countries that pioneered the 1951 UN Refugee Convention. However, the current policy on refugees is much on pushing Africans through various discouraging methods including violence and arbitrary arrest for voluntary travel to another country. Israel is now labeled as world’s worst nations for black immigrants. Roughly 60,000 mostly from Sudan and Eritrea entered to Israel through Egypt border. Most of the asylum seekers have been victims of kidnapping and torture by human traffickers while crossing the Egypt-Israel border. As signatory of the 1951 Refugees Convention, Israel is left with two choices: granting group protection or examining individual claims of miserable African asylum seekers.