African Asylum Seeker Stays Positive in Israeli Detention Facility

Hassan Shakur Hopes To Go Home to Darfur

Down But Not Out: Hassan Shakur.
Daniel Bar-On/Haaretz
Down But Not Out: Hassan Shakur.

By Eetta Prince-Gibson

Published March 03, 2014.
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Freeze on summonses

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees representative in Israel, Walpurga Englbrecht, has publicly stated that the process of indefinite detention in Holot does not comply with the norms of international human rights.

On February 20, Haaretz reported that Israeli courts have cancelled summonses of African asylum seekers to the Holot detention facility and frozen others until appeals can be heard against them. The courts have also cited serious, fundamental problems in the call-up process.

The government has replied to petitions on behalf of asylum seekers by stating that it does not see a need to hold hearings before ordering them to go to the Holot facility, because no violation of their rights is involved.

Israeli officials do acknowledge that instead of organizing outright deportations, Holot is one of the means being used to convince asylum seekers to leave “voluntarily” – along with cash incentives.

One official in the Population and Immigration Authority, speaking on condition of anonymity because she was not authorized to talk to reporters, tells Haaretz: “Israeli policy is clear. As the Jewish state, we cannot allow unlimited numbers of infiltrators to settle here. Most of them are economic migrants. In accordance with international law and our own standards as the Jewish people, we will treat these people humanely and decently, and respect their human rights.”

Last week, Interior Minister Gideon Sa’ar announced that a record 1,705 African asylum seekers left Israel in February. According to Sa’ar, this is proof that the Africans are coming to Israel for economic reasons and that the majority face no dangers in their native countries and that Israeli policies of encouraging them to leave is succeeding.Reporters are not allowed into Holot, although they can talk with the prisoners through the chain-link, razor-wire-topped fences, or by phone. In recent media reports, detainees have complained of inadequate food, a lack of heat, and numbing, debilitating boredom and despair.

“This is like being in prison in our homelands,” some detainees have told reporters.

An officer of the prison service, who also does not want to be identified, says in response that “we don’t think of these people as criminals, but this is the prison service … We will be as lenient as we can. Some of the detainees’ complaints are valid – the food isn’t great, and I myself don’t know why we take away their laptops. I hope that things will be smoothed out – after all, we only opened Holot about two months ago – and that the situation will improve.”

Shakur continues to be positive. In a recent SMS he writes, “I am fine. Please don’t worry about me. Everything is going well. I have all the time in the world – so I am able to study.”

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