100 refugee kids held in 'harsh conditions' at Ketziot

The state is detaining refugee children in harsh conditions as part of its overall policy of discouraging other refugees from entering Israel via the Sinai desert to seek asylum, five human rights organizations have charged in a petition filed this week in the High Court of Justice. "This time, as part of its efforts to deter the asylum-seekers," wrote attorney Yonatan Berman, "the state has chosen to exploit their children by holding them for undetermined periods of time in detention in terrible conditions while trampling the supreme value of the good of the child, which should be the top priority for any action taken by any government branch." The petition was filed by the Hotline for Migrant Workers, The Association for Civil Rights in Israel, Assaf - Organization to Aid Refugees and Asylum-Seekers, Physicians for Human Rights and the Reform Movement's Israel Religious Action Center. They are demanding that the wards holding the women and children be shut down. According to Berman, 100 children up to the age of 18 are among 210 women and children held in two wards of tents next to Ketziot Prison. Twenty of the children are less than two years old, including three baby girls born a few days ago and a baby boy born a month ago. According to a Hotline worker who visits the prison regularly, "each tent has a large number of narrow military beds placed tightly together. There is nowhere for the asylum-seekers to store their possessions. Despite the freezing cold during the winter desert nights, there is no heating for the children and their mothers in the tents. Each woman and child received two woolen army blankets and they are supposed to make do with them. The tents do not block the strong wind that blows at night. It penetrates the canvas and freezes the detainees." Included in the petition were affidavits submitted by five of the Ketziot "inmates" describing the conditions in which they are forced to live. Lila, a 27-year-old woman from southern Sudan, said that she had given birth to her fifth child in a hospital in November 2007. "After three days, I was returned to Ketziot with my newborn son. Each one of us has two army blankets which is not enough, as there is no heating. My children manage to get some sleep only towards 8 a.m., when it starts getting warmer. My [second] youngest son, three years old, cries through the night due to the cold. Since I was released from hospital three weeks ago, I have not had a medical checkup. While I was in hospital, no one made sure my other four children were safe." Victoria, a 14-year-old girl from southern Sudan, said, "There is no social or educational activity here and since I came, I have not met with a social worker. We have no books and most of the day I have nothing to do. I have no friends here. Everything is difficult for me. I want to get out and go to school."