Asylum seekers reach the Knesset after a march of two days. (Activestills).
A group of 150 Sudanese asylum seekers reached the Prime
Minister’s Office and then the Knesset in snowy Jerusalem Tuesday
morning, after a march of two days from the so called 'open prison' in the Negev.
The asylum seekers spent the night at Kibbutz Nahshon,
having been taken in by kibbutz members and in the morning proceeded by
buses to Jerusalem, accompanied by dozens of Israeli activists and a
large number of police and immigration inspectors.Upon reaching Jerusalem they were joined by several dozen other Sudanese and Eritrean asylum seekers who also left the facility for Be’er Sheva earlier in the week and took buses directly to Jerusalem. An
unknown number of other detainees from the new “open facility” are reportedly roaming the Negev individually, not taking part in the “March for Freedom” protest but looking for ways to survive outside prison. Haaret reports that some have reached Tel Aviv and have been arrested by authorities.
The demonstrators were also joined by Israeli activists from NGOs supporting refugee rights, a public housing collective in Jerusalem and residents of the unrecognized Bedouin village of al-Araqib. Together they have been calling for an end to the policy of jailing asylum seekers and denying them work permits, demanding freedom
and human rights. Demonstrators were also calling on the government to investment funds not in policing and detention facilities, but in a proper refugee status determination process and in supporting both the asylum seekers themselves and the Israeli poor neighborhoods in which they live. Residents of those communities have for several years been complaining about the hardships caused by the newcomers in their already impoverished communities.
According to the new amendment to the”Anti-Infiltration Law,” passed only last week and already challenged by an NGO appeal to the High Court of Justice, asylum seekers who do not report back to the “open facility” after 48 hours an be apprehended and imprisoned for three months. Repeat offenders can be imprisoned for up to one year. Some of the asylum seekers who left the facility have been telling journalists that they have already spent two years in prison (under the previous version of the law that was overturned by the court).
The new amendment to the Prevention of Infiltration Law was adopted last week in the Knesset (with 30 votes for and 15 against). The new amendment, hurriedly drafted and
passed by the governing coalition, will replace the 2012 amendment to the law, which was nixed by the High Court of Justice three months ago.
The previous amendment to the law permitted the detention of asylum
seekers without trial for a three-year period in Israel’s Saharonim and
Ketziot prisons. Under the new amendment, asylum seekers will be jailed
for one year in the prisons, followed by additional indefinite detention
in a specially constructed internment camp operated by the Israeli
The internment camp, called ''Holot'', was opened two days after the amendment was adopted and has the capacity to hold 3,300 detainees. Interior Ministry officials hope that the camp will serve as a “revolving door” leading to the deportation of asylum seekers from Israel. Pressure by Interior Ministry officials and prison guards,
coupled with financial incentives – until recently asylum
seekers got $1,500 in exchange for voluntary deportation; a recent
government decision raised the sum to $3,500 – resulted in over 800
Sudanese and 14 Eritrean nationals agreeing to sign “voluntary leave”
forms and be deported.
The new camp is a so called ''opon facility''. Inmates are free to go where ever they want. But as they have to report three times a day and the nearest town is about an hour away, it is not clear what exactly this ''freedom'' means.