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Photo by: Ben Hartman
Migrants in prison protest ‘infiltrators law'
By BEN HARTMAN
15/10/2012
African migrants send back meals at Saharonim Prison, protesting law allowing them to be jailed for up to 3 years.
 
A few hundred African migrants sent back meals for two days last week to protest against the “Infiltrators Law,” the Prisons Service said.

Approved last January, the so-called “Infiltrators Law,” an amendment to the Prevention of Infiltration Law (1954), went into effect in June and allows the state to jail without trial for up to three years people who have entered the country illegally.

Sivan Weitzman, spokeswoman for the Prisons Service, said that between 400 and 500 migrants held at Saharonim Prison near the Egyptian border refused their meals for two days. The Prisons Service only considers a protest a hunger strike once an inmate has refused more than six meals, she said.

African migrants in south Tel Aviv said this week that the protest began on Monday last week when a group of a few dozen Eritrean women recruited the rest of the more than 1,000 Eritrean detainees in Saharonim to go on strike, after they found out that they stood to be jailed for three years.

Many of those who went on strike were also reportedly under the impression that they might be returned to Egypt.

Activists said, however, the strike continued until Sunday, and not just for two days, and that four of the hunger strikers were taken to Soroka University Hospital in Beersheba for treatment and that prison staff gave others infusions. Weitzman denied the report, saying that none of the protesters needed to be hospitalized and only a few were given medical treatment at the prison.

She added that “there are always people being hospitalized [from Saharonim] at Soroka for different reasons, like malaria, tuberculosis, etc.”

The hunger strike took place at the same time that Interior Minister Eli Yishai paid a highly publicized visit to Saharonim to observe the nearby detention facilities being built to house thousands of African refugees, which are set to be completed in the coming months. Yishai arrived at the main gate of Saharonim, gave a short press conference and then was taken inside Saharonim for a visit, before leaving minutes later.

No press was allowed inside the prison to accompany Yishai.

In August, Yishai announced that he would start arresting citizens from Sudan in Israel illegally on October 15, followed by Eritreans shortly thereafter. Following a petition issued by human rights organizations earlier this month, Jerusalem District Court Judge Nava Ben-Or issued a preliminary injunction last Thursday banning such arrests. Another hearing on the issue is scheduled for October 30.

Sara Robinson of Amnesty International Israel’s refugees branch issued a statement on Monday calling on the government to “immediately release without condition the jailed asylum-seekers and to abandon plans to build more detention centers for them.”

She also called on the state to honor the asylum-seekers’ basic rights and said the amendment to the Prevention of Infiltration Law violated Israel’s obligations under international law.

In an internal Welfare and Social Services Ministry document sent recently to the National Planning and Construction Council, the ministry said that the conditions in the tent city being built and the permanent detention centers for asylum-seekers in the Negev were “unreasonable” and not humane enough, Haaretz reported on Monday.
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