Detainees protesting at Holot detention centre on Tuesday night.
Photos and videos taken at the Holot detention centre, in the middle of Israel’s Negev desert, show hundreds of African migrants protesting in the yard on Tuesday night. They were angered that nine new arrivals were forced to sleep outside due to overcrowding, they said.
Holot is what the Israeli authorities call an open detention centre. Detainees are locked up at night, and must check in several times during the day. Most of the detainees are from Sudan and Eritrea, and entered Israel illegally over the past decade, hoping to obtain refugee status. Many of them spent years living in Tel Aviv thanks to temporary residence permits, which allowed them to stay in Israel but not work, though in practice they found small jobs.
However, this past year, the government has changed its attitude. African migrants are now being called up, one by one, and asked to make a choice: get on a flight to their home country, or go to Holot. Fearing war or persecution back home, many are choosing the latter. Last week, a Prison Service representative told parliament that 2,352 asylum-seekers were being housed at Holot, and that there were only 21 vacancies remaining.
On Monday, 29 new people were transferred to Holot. According to the Prison Service, 20 of these men were immediately assigned rooms. They said guards found rooms for the remaining nine by nightfall, but that they refused, insisting on staying together. However, Holot detainees disagree with this version of events.
"They need to give these men some respect”
Anuwar Suliman, who is from Sudan, arrived in Israel in 2008. He has been living in detention at Holot for two months now.
On Monday night, I saw some of these men sitting outdoors, with all their belongings. All nine of them are Sudanese; they speak no English and very little Hebrew. They told me that there were no beds for them. They could have slept inside, on the ground, but they wanted to sleep outside so that others would see their plight. I went to talk to the prison officials, and told them that they should open up new rooms for them, since there are wings that are aren’t open yet. [The detention centre is set to expand and eventually hold between 6,000 and 9,000 migrants.] But they wouldn’t. Apparently, they didn’t have the staff to deal with any new rooms. So the nine men slept outside all night.Detainees protesting on Tuesday night.The next day, there were still no beds for them. Word had spread about their situation, and many of us went out to join them in protest. We stayed out past our 10pm curfew. The officials and police officers came to talk to us; we told them that we didn’t want any trouble, but that they needed to give these men some respect. To preserve their humanity, they needed to sleep in beds. We wouldn’t go back inside otherwise. Finally around 5am, beds were found for them and we ended our protest.