High Court Orders Hundreds Freed from Holot Detention Centre

Two weeks ago, for the third time, the Supreme Court revised its ruling on the legality of the so-called “Infiltration Prevention Law” in response to a lawsuit brought by a group of human rights organizations including the Association for Civil Rights in Israel and the Hotline for Refugees and Migrants, both NIF grantees.

Though the court affirmed the constitutionality of the law, the justices ruled that the amount of time asylum seekers could be held in the Holot detention facility was disproportionate and must be reduced to one year. The court also chastised the government for their slow pace in processing requests for asylum. As a result, in the coming weeks, roughly 1,200 people who have been held in Holot for more than a year will be released.

Supreme Court Chief Justice Miriam Naor wrote the majority opinion declaring the law constitutional yet restricting some of its provisions. Her ruling criticized the conditions in which the detainees – refugees and labor migrants alike – were housed “As a citizen, I would have liked to see my country show more compassion, even towards those suspected of infiltrating Israel to make money,” she wrote.

After the ruling, the petitioning organisations released the following statement:

“The High Court made it clear today, for the third time, that the Knesset did not think through before ordering the denial of liberty of thousands of people. The Court ruled that detention in Holot for 20 months is unconstitutional, and anyone jailed in Holot for over a year will be released immediately. The state was given six months to formulate an alternative law for detention in Holot that will meet constitutional standards. The Court made it clear that a policy whose purpose is to break asylum-seekers’ spirit to coerce them to leave Israel is unconstitutional. The judges also criticized the slow pace of examining asylum claims and the abysmally low recognition rate of refugees in Israel.

Israel’s policy can not amount to either mass denial of liberty of innocents or complete neglect of the issue. We call on the government to direct the creativity and resources invested in jailing and pressuring asylum-seekers to give up and leave Israel in a policy that will benefit both asylum-seekers and residents of south Tel Aviv: redirecting the millions spent on detaining asylum-seekers to improving health and welfare services in areas, such as south Tel Aviv, where many asylum-seekers reside. The state can also encourage asylum-seekers to move out of overcrowded and impoverished neighbourhoods by granting them work permits and providing incentives to employers through Israel to hire them.”

With the release of the asylum seekers, however, conditions are looking worse: the government announced that the released asylum seekers would be barred from working or living in Tel Aviv or Eilat – the two cities home to the largest communities of asylum seekers. This ruling means that many of those released have been left with nowhere to go, their connections mostly existing in the barred cities. To make matters worse, Arad Mayor stated that he was determined to keep asylum seekers out of Arad, and “If we have to strengthen our struggle on this issue I won’t hesitate to call on all residents to join in the fight for the city’s well-being”.

NIF grantee the African Refugee Development Centre, is responding to the situation, looking for hosts for asylum seekers who would otherwise have no option but to sleep on the streets.

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August 2015