NGO petitions court over ‘ban’ of prison visits to migrants

Hotline for Migrant Workers claims move by Prisons Service prevents legal meetings with jailed asylum seekers.

African migrant in south Tel Aviv 370 (photo credit: Baz Ratner/Reuters)
African migrant in south Tel Aviv 370
(photo credit: Baz Ratner/Reuters)
The Hotline for Migrant Workers petitioned the Supreme Court on Monday, against what they said is a ban recently enacted by the Prisons Service on visits by their volunteers to migrants at the Saharonim and Ketziot prisons in the south.
The Hotline said the ban began in June at Ketziot and in July at Saharonim without any prior notification given to the NGOs, who regularly visit the facilities to provide jailed migrants with legal advice and counsel them on their rights in Israel.
“As a result we will no longer be able to assist asylum seekers in regards to their rights and explain to them what is expected of them, to examine what their social and medical problems are and the conditions of their imprisonment; to locate victims of trafficking and slavery, and to support asylum seekers in submitting asylum requests,” the petition says.
It argues that the denial of visits with legal counsel violates Israeli law, which ensures the rights of prisoners to representation.
It also argues that the ban will hinder the ability of asylum seekers to appeal their arrest and/or subsequent deportation from Israel.
A spokeswoman for the Hotline said the ban had a particular effect on South Sudanese citizens arrested by immigration authorities when the deportations began in June, saying that it caused great difficulties in their work advising detained South Sudanese looking to appeal their deportation.
She added that this included some citizens of north Sudan mistakenly swept up in the arrests.
The Israel Prisons Service said the press release the Hotline sent out with the petition “is full of inaccuracies,” and denied that any sort of policy change had been enacted.
“The truth is that as of July 26, 2012 the Israel Prisons Services informed the Hotline that like before, it will still be possible for volunteers who are not attorneys to enter court hearings during their proceedings only, in order to represent the accused during their court hearing only and only in conditions where the defendant called them and arranged it themselves.” They added that this is only in cases where the prisoner contacted the Hotline themselves and the legal counseling is provided free of charge.
A legal advisor for the hotline said the statement represents a change in policy in that before their meetings with prisoners were not limited solely to court hearings.
She clarified that the Hotline would contact the IPS on a regular basis and submit a list of names of prisoners they wanted to meet with and would visit the facilities once approval was given by prison authorities.
The Hotline said Monday that the IPS policy “is in keeping with the policies of the Interior Ministry to burden this group of people, in order to deter other people from their country from coming to Israel.”