Aid Organization for Refugees and Asylum Seekers in Israel

Arrest and Detention

Fighting Detention

In 2011, after years of avoiding the need to commit to a clear policy, the Israeli government decided to act decisively against asylum seekers in the country.

At the same time as the fence along the border with Egypt was constructed (which today almost completely prevents any border crossings) a detention facility – "Holot" -  was built. In January 2012, the Anti-Infiltration Law was passed. The Minister of Interior at that time, Mr. Eli Yishai, openly admitted the objective of detention as he declared: "until I will have the option to deport them, I shall imprison them and make their lives miserable".

The law not only authorizes the detention of anyone who had infiltrated the border into Israel, but also (and mainly), authorizes the detention of asylum seekers who had already been living in the country for many years.

Since 2012 there is a legal battle regarding the imprisonment of asylum seekers in Holot. Human rights organizations in Israel, including ASSAF, had appealed to the High Court of Justice. The court had accepted the appeal and struck down the law twice already. It is a recurring cycle, in which the court orders the state to shutter the facility in a given time period, during which lawmakers quickly draft a new version of the law, which enables to continue the detention.

On December 2014 the 5th amendment of the law was passed at the Knesset, and once again a coalition of human rights organization had appealed to the high court.

On the 11-th of August 2015, the High Court of Justice had rejected the appeal, and by that approved the law, but disapproved the long imprisonment and demanded the immidiate release of anyone held in the "Holot" facility for more than a year. The court ordered the legislator to set a shorter period of imprisonment in the law.

Following the court's order, the state released more than 1,200 of the detainees, those which were held at the detention facility over a year. At the same time, it continues to summon for detention, thousands of other asylum seekers.


Holot Detention Facility

The Holot detention facility is called 'an open facility', but its reality is that of a prison. It is operated by the Israeli Prison Service, and the detainees are required to attend a daily roll-call and spend the night there. As it is located in the middle of the desert, far from any locality, the detainees are practically imprisoned there.

The conditions at the facility are harsh - living in crowded rooms (10 persons in each) without privacy, the detainees have to live without nutritious food and appropriate health services, not to mention educational or recreational programs.

Worst of all is the growing despair due to the lack of hope to be released any time soon.

The detainees are mostly young people, most of whom experienced persecution. Before the detention, they lived in Israel for several years, they worked, studied and began to rebuild their lives in Israel. All this was suddenly cut short. The imprisonment prevents them from studying, developing occupational skills, building families, and instead they see their life slowly diminishing. The desperation, the unbearable conditions and the sustained pressure by the clerks of the Immigration and Border Authority at the facility, all are designed to influence the detainees, and cause them to submit to leave Israel 'willingly', to an unknown fate.

Many of those detained had survived persecutions, torture and genocides. Research shows that the imprisonment of asylum seekers brings about a deterioration of their mental condition, and may prevent their chance of any future recovery. The uncertainty surrounding their imprisonment at the detention center will undoubtedly have a devastating effect on their life. More than that, their imprisonment directly affects the rest of the community of asylum seekers whom have yet to be imprisoned, and a trend of extreme despair is already identified among them. Many express their insecurity and fear of what the future has in store for them, as well as a sense of inability to control and influence their own lives.

In regards to Israeli society, it is worth noting that the cost of operating the 'Holot' detention facility, which accommodates 3,300 detainees (maximum capacity), is 100 million shekels per year. This is an incredible sum which could have been used to rebuild the southern neighborhoods of the city of Tel-Aviv, for welfare and education services and for implementing a carefully planned and humane process of absorbing the refugees.