Holot, a detention center in the middle of the Negev in southern Israel, is an indefinite home for many of the more than 50,000 Sudanese and Eritrean migrants who have fled war and genocide in their home countries.
Holot is the last stop for most African migrants, who are subject to three months incarceration following apprehension by Israeli authorities, as well as an unlawful “repatriation fee.” All three steps – Holot, incarceration, and the fee – are designed to encourage African migrants to leave Israel in favor of a third-party African country.
The indefinite detention of African asylum seekers is permitted under the the Prevention of Infiltration Law, which was established in 1954 (targeting Palestinians who had been expelled from Israel) and was amended for the first time in 2012. In 2013, the Israeli High Court ruled that the 2012 amendment was unconstitutional and in need of revisions.
On September 22, 2014, the High Court ruled that the amendment’s second version was also unconstitutional and ordered that the Holot detention center be closed within ninety days. The deadline for closure is Monday, December 22.
Knesset Interior and Environment Committee Chair Miri Regev vowed that Holot would not be shut down, as the Knesset discussed a third version of the Infiltration Law. The new amendment would limit detention terms in Holot to a maximum of twenty months, reduce role call from three times a day to once, and create harsher penalties for those who employ illegal migrants.
“This law will have teeth, and it won’t be up to judges to determine our immigration policy, rather the elected government,” Regev said, according to The Jerusalem Post.
But, on Thursday, December 18, the High Court issued a temporary injunction preventing officials from imposing new rules for African migrants. The ruling came as a result of a detailed legal petition submitted by an Israeli human rights group, stating that the new amendment was nearly identical to the old one. As a part of this ruling, High Court Justice Yoram Danziger ordered that the transfer of African migrants to Holot immediately cease.
The Hotline for Refugees and Migrants filed the petition, which states that the latest amendment to the Infiltration Law is “practically identical structurally and conceptually to the previous amendment which was struck down by the High Court.” The group also stated that the new version continues to be “unconstitutional.” “They are not conducting a dialogue with the judicial branch, but rather a fist fight, in which anything goes,” the organization wrote.
In the video below, The Guardian compiled interviews with African asylum seekers either heading to or already in Holot about their experience: