'Teen asylum seekers held under severe conditions'

Justice Ministry says more than a dozen African teens locked up 21 hours a day, and barely see light of day.

February 16, 2010 23:24
2 minute read.
Sudanese family caught by the IDF on the border.

sudanese refugees IDF 311. (photo credit: AP)

More than a dozen African teenagers who entered Israel unaccompanied are being held in prison where they are locked up 21 hours a day and barely see the light of day, the Justice Ministry’s legal aid department charged Tuesday in a petition to the High Court of Justice.

In a rare move, the petition was aimed at the Ministry of Interior, the Ministry of Social Affairs and the Ministry of Public Security.

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It was filed in the name of 24 youths, most of them aged 13-17. Since the petition was drafted, some of the youths have been released from prison following individual petitions filed in district administrative courts. It is not clear exactly how many of the youths are still in prison.

According to the petition, most of the teenagers come from Sudan and Eritrea and cannot be expelled by Israel because of the fighting in their homelands.

Nevertheless, after they crossed the border, most of them were arrested by the army and brought before an interior ministry official who issued expulsion orders and orders to place them in confinement.

The youths were first sent to the Saharonim confinement center, which is under the authority of the Prisons Service and from there to Givon prison, “which is meant to hold convicted criminals,” according to the petition.“This has harsh consequences for the petitioners.”

The youths are locked up, six to a cell, in cell block 6, an isolated building which has a 40-meter-long corridor with the cells running off it on either side. The cells have iron doors with a small opening at the bottom through which the wardens deliver their food. Each cell contains three bunk beds and is inhabited by six asylum-seekers.

The teens are allowed out of their cell for one hour of exercise in a courtyard  surrounded by walls on all sides and roofed with burlap. It is too cold to use in winter and too hot to use in summer.

In addition, the youths have two hours of school each day, during which they study Hebrew, English, math, art and sports.

Many of them suffer from depression and some have shown suicidal tendencies. In some cases, such youths have been placed in an isolated cell with a camera and sometimes chained to the bed.

The attorneys for the youths, Anat Bahat and Gilad Barnea, charged that the conditions in the jail were completely unsuitable for the youths and that they were being held in prison in violation of the Entry to Israel Law and a government regulation regarding the treatment of unaccompanied minors from foreign countries.

The respondents in the petition are represented by the High Court Petitions Section of the State Attorney’s Office.

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