NGO: 3,000 asylum seekers denied basic services as pressure to leave

The Hotline for Refugees and Migrants NGO claims that the Israel Prisons Service is providing African asylum seekers in the country with substandard conditions in order to pressure them to leave.

AFRICAN MIGRANTS being held at the Holot detention center in the Negev demonstrate last month for better conditions. (photo credit: REUTERS)
AFRICAN MIGRANTS being held at the Holot detention center in the Negev demonstrate last month for better conditions.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
A report published Wednesday by the Hotline for Refugees and Migrants NGO accused the Israel Prisons Service (IPS) of providing substandard conditions for detained African asylum seekers as a way to pressure them into leaving the country.
“The findings of the report indicate a very limited living space and overcrowding in cells contrary to IPS regulations, inadequate translation and medical services, and lack of basic hygiene products,” the report said, based on a survey of more than 100 asylum seekers, mostly from Sudan and Eritrea, detained in the Holot, Saharonim, Givon and Yahalom detention centers.
The report also noted that the number of detained asylum seekers has dropped from approximately 5,000 to 3,000, but added that asylum seekers face pressure from the Israel Population and Immigration Authority to self-deport, despite the majority being from Sudan and Eritrea, countries to which Israel says it cannot deport them.
As a result, the report contends that Israel is improperly using detention as a means to promote self-deportation. The report cites the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, which states that detention “is an exceptional measure and can be justified only for a legitimate purpose.”
“There are massive tracts in the immigration prisons that are half empty and [the IPS] still keeps them crowded for no apparent reason, other than to get them to leave the country,” stated Sigal Rozen, the report’s author and public policy coordinator at the NGO.
Rozen also stated that asylum seekers face major hurdles in filing requests for asylum in Israel, including lack of access to translators or legal aid.
The IPS and Immigration Authority declined to comment on the report.
In response to the report, the NGO made several recommendations, including avoiding the detention of African asylum seekers in favor of “more humane and economic and effective measures of controlling immigration flow,” not detaining torture survivors or persons with post-traumatic stress disorder or other mental conditions and not detaining children.
The report also recommended that the IPS reduce the number and density of those detained in prison cells to five people per cell, provide detainees with regular access to hygiene products, and ensure the right of detainees to file complaints against detention staff.
In the mid-2000s, Israel experienced an influx of around 50,000 African asylum seekers, many of whom now have children, who were concentrated in south Tel Aviv. The government considers these asylum seekers “infiltrators” and wants to deport them whenever possible.