Protests continue at African migrants detention center

IPS decides to clear out tent city section of facility after some 170 prisoners elect to send back their meals.

Saharonim Prison 370 (photo credit: Ben Hartman)
Saharonim Prison 370
(photo credit: Ben Hartman)
Protests continued at the Saharonim detention facility for African migrants on Sunday, with around 170 prisoners electing to send back their meals in the afternoon.
There are 230 protesters in Block 8 of the facility who joined a few dozen from Block 3 and Block 4, who remain on hunger strike since the protest began early last week. That number is out of the 350 who were protesting in those blocks at the start of the weekend.
Prisons Service spokeswoman Sivan Weitzman said Sunday that over the weekend, authorities had removed the hunger strikers from Block 3 and Block 4 of the facility, which houses some 1,600 detainees, and moved them elsewhere in Saharonim and to other detention facilities and prisons in southern Israel.
She added that the service also made the decision to remove all of the detainees from the tent city section and place them in cell blocks, but said the decision had nothing to do with the protest. The Prisons Service does not plan to return the detainees to the tent section, she said.
Weitzman confirmed that during the strike the service has stopped allowing detainees to make phone calls, saying that hunger strikes are a violation of prison conduct and that once a prisoner carries out such actions, authorities have the right to take away their privileges.
The protest is one of several held over the past year against the Prevention of Infiltration Law (1954), which went into effect last summer and grants the state the ability to indefinitely jail people entering the country illegally.
Last Thursday, the Hotline for Migrant Workers called on the Prisons Service to allow media and outside medical personnel to visit the asylum-seekers.
Also on Thursday, Attorney- General Yehuda Weinstein ruled that 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.
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.
Yonah Jeremy Bob contributed to this report.