A-G: Migrants' consent to return home must be videotaped

New policy only applies to migrants from Eritrea, South Sudan; some 300 migrants protest imprisonment at Saharonim facility.

June 27, 2013 18:24
3 minute read.
Eritrean migrants protest Negev detention facility

Eritrean migrants protest Negev detention center 370. (photo credit: Ben Hartman)

When the state and a migrant in the Saharonim detention facility agree on the migrant returning to his or her country of origin, the state must videotape the migrant’s consent, according to a policy shift approved by Attorney- General Yehuda Weinstein on Thursday.

The decision comes during an ongoing protest at the facility that has seen around 300 African migrants sending back meals for the past two days, The Jerusalem Post has learned.

Sivan Weitzman of the Prisons Service said Thursday that the move by migrants protesting their detention at the facility is not being considered a hunger strike, only that the detainees “are sending back their meals.”

While Weitzman said that the protest has only been going on for two days, a source in the Eritrean community in Tel Aviv said that, according to inmates at Saharonim, the protest began on Sunday in Block 3 and Block 4 of the detention facility.

On Thursday, the Hotline for Migrant Workers called on the Prisons Service to allow the media and outside medical personnel to visit the asylum-seekers, saying that it was told by employees at the facility that the protest started with a hunger strike in Block 3 on Saturday, and that the next day it spread to Block 4 as well. The hotline added that it had also heard reports from Amnesty International about the protest breaking out in Block 8 as well.

The hotline said that it has received no phone calls from either Block 3 or Block 4 since Sunday, and that it was told by people in touch with detainees that they have been denied access to public phones.

Weinstein’s new policy will apply only to migrants from Eritrea and Sudan, countries from which the vast majority of migrants in Israel come.

These migrants often claim, unlike those of South Sudan, that they cannot return due to a fear of persecution.

The consent must be videotaped as part of a detailed interview with the migrant, with a translator present, in which the migrant also needs to write or sign his consent to return to his country of origin.

The videotape and request will be reviewed both by Interior Ministry officials and judicial officials connected to the detention center.

In addition, the migrant must be allowed to reverse the decision to return at any point prior to departure.

The policy was announced in the aftermath of harsh criticism against the state for allegedly violating the rights of migrants by coercing them into “voluntarily” returning to their countries of origin, including a still ongoing petition before the High Court of Justice to strike down the law underlying the policy of detaining and trying to deport migrants.

There have been a number of protests over the past year at Saharonim. In May, over 300 detainees protested for two days, asking to be released from custody and allowed freedom of movement in Israel. During that protest, the detainees refused to return to their cells for two days, until they were forcibly returned by security personnel.

The protest was held against the Prevention of Infiltration Law (1954), which went into effect last summer and grants the state the ability to imprison for a number of years people who enter the country illegally.

In a separate protest at the facility in October, 400-500 detainees sent back meals for two days in an effort that was started by a group of Eritrean women who were under the impression that they were going to be deported to Egypt.

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