As snow blanketed much of Israel, African asylum seekers held against their will at the Holot detention facility in the Negev Desert shivered in their beds under piles of clothes to try to ward off the extreme cold made worse after the Israel Prison Service (IPS) confiscated the space heaters and temperatures dropped to freezing.
African Asylum Seekers Detained In Remote Desert Location With Inadequate Heat And Blankets, Government Confiscates Space Heaters
Shmarya Rosenberg • FailedMessiah.com
As snow blanketed much of Israel, African asylum seekers held against their will at the Holot detention facility in the Negev Desert shivered in their beds under piles of clothes to try to ward off the extreme cold made worse after the Israel Prison Service (IPS) confiscated the space heaters and temperatures dropped to freezing, Ha’aretz reported.
The IPS claims it confiscated the space heaters because they are a fire-hazard.
Emergency appeals were made on behalf of the asylum seekers by human rights groups and three Members of Knesset Dov Hanin of the far left-wing Hadash Party and Michal Rozin and Ilan Gilon of the left-wing Meretz Party.
In response, the IPS gave detainees heating pads. But those heating pads are not strong enough to keep warm the men warm, and the IPS distributed only three pads per every 10 detainees.
"People are suffering from the cold. It's very cold and windy," Isaac, one of the African asylum seekers held in Holot reportedly said, noting that detainees wear many layers of clothes to try to keep warm, and there is a shortage of blankets.
"We talked to them [the IPS], we told them 'give us heating,' they said 'no, we don't want to.’ They gave us something small, a heating pad. It doesn't help, it's nothing. We told them it's not right, we're cold. They said they'll bring us more heating pads by Sunday,” Isaac, who is originally from Darfur in Southern Sudan, continued. He has been held in Holot for a year.
The IPS denied the African asylum seekers claims and the media reports about them.
“Heated areas are open to detainees all hours of the day. Distribution of blankets and coats is continuing, despite meager demand,” the IPS reported said in a statement.
The chief head of the Holot detention center, Shalom Yaakov, dismissed media reports of the detainees’ suffering as inaccurate.
“[Those media reports] don't reflect the situation, as last night hundreds of heating pads were given out to the detainees,” Yaakov reportedly said.
The commander of the Israel Prison Service southern district, Asher Shriki, claimed that “elements” were exploiting a relatively minor situation and trying to make it appear extreme to benefit their own “agenda.”
“[The situation in Holot] isn't as extreme as some elements are trying to portray, probably out of their own agenda,” Shriki said.
More than 2,200 asylum seekers from Sudan and Eritrea are held against their will in Holot, which in the middle of the Negev Desert far from civilization.
Israel’s High Court of Justice has repeatedly struck down laws allowing the detention of asylum seekers and has sharply attacked the government for imprisoning these people.
But successive governments led by Prime Minister benjamin Netanyahu of the right-wing Likud Party have skirted those rulings. The government has also continued to incite against these asylum seekers – almost all of who legally qualify for refugee status. But Netanyahu’s governments have refused to grant refugee status, instead taking years to process applications and sending its Immigration Police to harass and arrest Africans seeking asylum.
Much of right-wing and even centrist Israeli society denigrates African asylum seekers and demonizes them, and Netanyahu and many of his ministers persist on calling these poor people “infiltrators” or “illegal Migrants.”
In September, the High Court of Justice overturned the a version of the law allowing asylum seekers to be detained in Holot.
In response, under the leadership of Netanyahu’s Likud Party and others from the right-wing and from Orthodox and haredi parties, the Knesset then passed an amended version just before it dissolved last month in preparation for new snap elections to be held in March.
Petitions were then filed by against the newly amended law by asylum seekers and their advocates and in response the High Court issued a temporary injunction stopping the government from detaining any more asylum seekers in Holot.
But Tuesday, the court canceled the injunction, and the government immediately began sending more asylum seekers to detention in Holot – despite the lack of blankets and heat.
However, an expanded panel of nine High Court justices will hold a hearing on those petitions against the new law. That hearing, scheduled for February 3, is more than three weeks away.