NGOs to High Court: Save detained migrants from cold conditions

Yesh Atid MK: Conditions worse than for terrorists with blood on their hands.

African migrants walk in front of the entrance to Holot open detention center in the Negev  (photo credit: REUTERS)
African migrants walk in front of the entrance to Holot open detention center in the Negev
(photo credit: REUTERS)
A group of NGOs on Sunday filed an emergency petition with the High Court of Justice pleading that it order the Holot detention center to allow migrants to bring heaters into their quarters or release them until the quarters are properly heated due to the extremely cold weather conditions.
MK Shimon Solomon (Yesh Atid) added his voice to the NGOs petition, saying the conditions for the African migrants in the open detention center were “worse than those for terrorists with blood on their hands.”
The petition was filed by the Hotline for Refugees and Migrants, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel and other groups.
The High Court ordered the state to respond by midday Monday, due to the immediacy of the issue.
The petition complains that the state is keeping the 2,300 migrants in difficult cold conditions deliberately.
“The lack of heating devices in the sleeping quarters in the facility is not a mistake or logistics, it is policy,” the petition stated, adding that the purpose of the policy to keep the migrants cold is to add another of many pressures on them to “voluntarily” self-deport from Israel.
The Israel Prisons Service responded that it “would like to clarify that the detainees have access all day to heated areas and that blankets and jackets continue to be handed out.”
They added that reports in the media do not portray the situation on the ground.
They also quoted Holot commander Asher Shariki as saying the “situation is not an extreme one like certain sources are trying to portray it, probably due to their own ulterior motives.”
The IPS asserted that it is doing everything it can, including providing heat in recreation areas and cafeterias and distributing blankets and jackets to all who request them.
The NGOs responded that this is not a solution, as the migrants cannot spend all day and night sleeping in the cafeteria, and that without heating in their quarters, the conditions are unlivable.
The petition was filed as the NGO’s wait for a February 3 hearing on the constitutionality of the state’s new migrant policy, its third in two years.
On December 18, the NGOs filed a petition with the High Court to strike down the state’s African migrant policy after the same court struck down the state’s previous two attempts, and the court ordered a temporary freeze of all detentions.
The court had told the state in September it must close the Holot open detention center within 90 days and froze aspects of the limits on the movement of illegal migrants under the old policy. It also quashed the constitutionality of holding newly arrived illegal migrants in the closed Saharonim detention center for one year.
The latest policy shortened the maximum amount of time migrants can be detained in each facility and changed some aspects of their detention conditions.
It allows for migrants to be held in the Holot open detention center for a maximum of 20 months, as opposed to the previous version in which they could be detained indefinitely.
In addition, whereas detainees were ordered to sign in three times a day at Holot, the present draft calls on them to sign in just once a day.
While that change somewhat freesup migrants’ movement, there are still elaborate prohibitions and sanctions designed to prevent migrants from finding employment.
The former interior minister and many other politicians said the court’s September ruling undermined a policy that had been effective in dealing with the illegal migrant population, which had dropped to 48,212 as of June 30 – around 10,000 fewer than it was at its height a few years ago.
Ben Hartman contributed to this story.