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Israel puts Eritrean woman in administrative detention for buying fake work permit

The Interior Ministry declared Sanait Tesfauneh, an asylum-seeker from Eritrea, a ‘threat to public security’ and placed her in administrative detention after she was suspected of purchasing a forged work permit. Now, several organizations are attempting to challenge the detention system that deprives asylum seekers of their civil liberties.

Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables was published in 1862. Over the years the book became the most famous indictment against the treatment of the weak by society, authorities, and the law. Hugo tells the tale of Jean Valjean who was unable to find work to support his family, so he smashed a bakery window and stole a loaf of broad. For this he was jailed for many years. “What a mournful moment is that in which society withdraws itself and abandons irreparably a thinking being forever,” Hugo writes. “So long as there shall exist, by reason of law and custom, a social condemnation, which, in the face of civilization, artificially creates hells on earth…books like this cannot be useless,” Hugo predicted 150 years ago in the book’s preface, and didn’t know how right he was.

The year is 2012. Sanait Tesfauneh, an Eritrean woman who arrived in Israel, is suspected of purchasing a forged work permit that will allow her to work and support herself. She did not stand trial and was not convicted. Israeli authorities stripped her of any human rights or defense and jailed her for an unspecified amount of time. The Supreme Court approved this last week.

According to Interior Ministry policy, Eritreans are not deported from Israel due to the danger they face in their home country. The Interior Ministry refers to this as a “non-deportation policy.” Yet the Interior Ministry does not grant Eritreans work permits when they are released from prison. They are given residency permits for several months, which are extended, and explicitly state that they are not work permits. There is also a “non” part of this policy – non-enforcement. In other words, Eritreans may not work, they may not be employed, but the Interior Ministry declared that it would not enforce this ban and would not fine employers. The Supreme Court approved this policy.

Tesfauneh had a permit that stated on it that she could not work. She faced challenges, like many others, finding a job and supporting herself. When she finally found a housekeeping position at a Tel Aviv hotel she was told that she would not be hired without a work permit. Like others barred from supporting themselves due to the “non” policy, she purchased a forged work permit and paid NIS 400 every few months to renew it. By doing so she was able to work.

Last August she was arrested. It was decided that she not be prosecuted due to lack of public interest. She was transferred to the Interior Ministry, which immediately placed her in administrative detention for an unrestricted period time time, pursuant to the Prevention of Infiltration Law.

In September the “infiltrator” detention policy was anchored in Interior Ministry policy. The policy determines that “infiltrators” will only be arrested in cases in which they are suspected of posing a threat to state security or to public safety. When reviewing who was arrested pursuant to this policy, one discovers how broad the definition of “threat to public safety” is. According to Interior Ministry policy, there are asylum seekers in prison for “life sentences” who were not tried and are suspected of misdemeanors such as purchasing a forged work permit allowing them to work and support themselves.

The prison’s Administrative Tribunal refused to release Tesfauneh, and determined that she no longer needs to worry about survival, as the basics are provided in jail. The District Court also rejected the petition. An appeal was submitted to the Supreme Court, and a deliberation was held in mid-December before Justices Danziger, Hendel and Sohlberg.

Ahead of the hearing we requested – on behalf of Hotline for Migrant Workers, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, and the Legal Clinic for Immigrants’ Rights at the College of Law and Business – to join the proceedings as amicus curiae. The request was drafted in collaboration with Hotline attorney Asaf Weitzen.

In the request and in the hearing we insisted that the Interior Ministry had created a separate, oppressive and unprecedented system of punishment for asylum seekers. Administrative detention is an extreme and unusual tool; it is not a standard tool to be used by law enforcement authorities. Criminal law – through the courts, the right to legal representation, the presumption of innocence, and the need for the prosecution to prove guilt beyond reasonable doubt – is supposed to provide guarantees against the arbitrary deprivation of liberties. “Infiltrators” are stripped of all of these things and are exposed to random deprivation of their rights for indefinite periods of time. We stressed that these were not arrests ahead of deportations, as the State of Israel recognizes that Eritrean and Sudanese nationals cannot be deported due to the danger they would face in their home countries. These are the indefinite administrative detentions of individuals; either there is not enough evidence to prosecute them, or there is no public interest in their prosecution. Administrative detention as a means of punishment, deterrence or prevention is a severe tool and is not permitted. According to Israeli law, administrative detention – even in cases in which authorities claim the detainees pose a severe security threat – should be the last option, and should only be used when its purpose cannot be achieved by any other means. Criminal proceedings are not a luxury. They are the rule.

We also related to the court that since the Interior Ministry policy on “infiltrators” was introduced, NGOs have learned of dozens of cases in which individuals were arrested pursuant to the policy. In one case, for example, an asylum seeker filed a complaint against an acquaintance, claiming that he had raped her; he was arrested, pursuant to the policy. Afterwards, the complainant informed the police that she had fabricated the complaint, as she feared that her husband would find out that she had engaged in consensual relations with her acquaintance. Rather than releasing the acquaintance, the Interior Ministry decided to arrest the woman as well, pursuant to the policy, for filing a false complaint. In another instance an asylum seeker was arrested pursuant to the policy for having military property in his home. His Israeli landlord declared that the property was his, but to no avail. In another case the police arrested an asylum seeker from Darfur, in Sudan, on suspicion that he stole a cellular phone from a migrant worker from the Philippines. The phone was not found in his possession, and he denied any link to the act attributed to him. During the Magistrate Court hearing on the extension of his remand, the court determined that he be released on very low bail “in light of the nature of the offense and the circumstances.” Rather than release him, as per the court directive, the Interior Ministry detained the asylum seeker before he was able to meet the conditions of release set by the court.

In addition, since the existence of the policy has been made public, various people have misused it. For example, we have heard of cases in which Israeli employers who owe asylum seekers money for their work have warned them that if they insist on their rights and the money they deserve, they will file a police complaint that will lead to the asylum seekers’ arrest. In one case an asylum seeker couple who hired a photographer to document their wedding were sued by the photographer, who wanted them to pay for a camera that broke when he fell while taking pictures. When they refused he threatened to go to the police. Fearing that they would be arrested pursuant to the Interior Ministry policy on “infiltrators,” they paid him.

A verdict was handed down this week. Justice Hendel, with the consent of Justices Danziger and Sohlberg, determined that the court should not interfere with the Interior Ministry decision, and allowed for Tesfauneh’s continued detention for an undetermined amount of time. Her detention was deemed justified because, among other reasons, she is a threat to public safety: purchasing forged documents and using them to work adversely affects the reliability of state-issued identification papers.

The court also determined that because Tesfauneh’s case is different than others that we presented because she purchased a number of forged permits over an extended period of time. The court further noted that she has been incarcerated for a short time (five months at the time of the hearing, currently six months). The state also declared at the hearing that Tesfauneh could be allowed to file an asylum request (the state had heretofore prevented Eritreans from doing so), and that an attempt would be made in the coming months to deport her to a third country (the state has declared for years that it is trying to deport Eritreans to a third country).

The court left the legal questions pertaining to the Prevention of Infiltration Law and the Interior Ministry policy to the hearing on the legal petition filed by NGOs.

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  • COMMENTS

    1. The Trespasser

      >She faced challenges, like many others, finding a job and supporting herself.

      Numerous jobs are available in Tel Aviv to those without the work permit.

      Pay is obviously lower, about 17-22 NIS per hour, versus 25-30 for those who have permit, however since the cost of living for refugees is significantly lower, it makes up for the difference.

      >When she finally found a housekeeping position at a Tel Aviv hotel she was told that she would not be hired without a work permit.

      So she decided to commit a crime and cover up whoever gave her the permit.

      >Last August she was arrested. It was decided that she not be prosecuted due to lack of public interest. She was transferred to the Interior Ministry, which immediately placed her in administrative detention for an unrestricted period time time, pursuant to the Prevention of Infiltration Law.

      Perfectly legal. Any illegal alien in any European country would be arrested and deported based on document forgery.

      >For example, we have heard of cases in which Israeli employers who owe asylum seekers money for their work have warned them that if they insist on their rights and the money they deserve, they will file a police complaint that will lead to the asylum seekers’ arrest.

      There are Israeli employers who wouldn’t even pay Israeli citizens. So what?

      >In one case an asylum seeker couple who hired a photographer to document their wedding were sued by the photographer, who wanted them to pay for a camera that broke when he fell while taking pictures. When they refused he threatened to go to the police. Fearing that they would be arrested pursuant to the Interior Ministry policy on “infiltrators,” they paid him.

      Sued – in a court? Or he approached them privately?

      Places like wedding halls and such are supposed to be ensured, specifically to avoid similar incidents.

      Photographer should not be held responsible for damage caused to his property while on premises.

      They should be thankful that he only asked the price of camera and not sued them for damages.

      Worth noticing that by Israeli law, if someone demands anything – even his own money/property – and issues any kind of threat, including police, it is classified as “extortion by threat” and is a severe criminal offense.

      >Rather than releasing the acquaintance, the Interior Ministry decided to arrest the woman as well, pursuant to the policy, for filing a false complaint.

      Of course the woman should’ve been arrested. Anyone would be arrested and put behind bars for filing a false complaint.

      Reply to Comment
      • Trespasser, let’s pretend this woman is a Jew with no Israel to go to, and someone just like you makes exactly the same comments about her.

        Reply to Comment
        • The Trespasser

          Do you think that being Jewish automatically grants immunity from being persecuted on basis of immigration offences?

          Reply to Comment
          • You missed the point completely. Try reading it again.

            Reply to Comment
          • The Trespasser

            Obviously, reading it again won’t help. You’ll have to elaborate.

            Reply to Comment
    2. Kolumn9

      That’s right. Israel doesn’t treat illegal migrants in the same way as legal residents. That is because they are not. They have a right under conventions to not be expelled to countries where they might face persecution. That’s it. Note that the right to not be expelled is only relevant in as far as they are being expelled to their home countries. They could perfectly legally be expelled to third countries where they are not in immediate danger. There is no obligation on Israel to absorb them. Anything above basic existence is voluntary charity on the part of the Israeli authorities.

      Reply to Comment
      • If they are in Israel under the cover of a signed international convention–they are not illegal.

        Just call for the abrogation of the convention and be done with it.

        Reply to Comment
        • The Trespasser

          As a matter of fact, Israel is not the country of first asylum, which means that they they have no legal right to be here and Israel is not obliged to grant residency or work permits. On exactly the same basis you could complain that she does not have a right to work in Germany.

          She’s not there, you’d say. Right.
          So if I put her on the plane and send her to Germany she would be granted residence and work permit? I seriously doubt that. What would happen is that she’d be returned to Israel by the next flight.

          Reply to Comment
          • There must be a reason why your Supreme Court denied general expulsion in the first place; from what I have read, it is because they are indeed covered by the treaty. In fact, what the Court is now beginning to say is that the Knesset approved concentration camp is the way out given refugees may not be summarily expelled. My guess is that a different Justices sat on the first High Court pannel, with later pannals doing their best to restrict the national impact of that first ruling.

            Reply to Comment
          • At best, a country of first asylum must be willing to grant effective asylum. If you mean Egypt, I think it safe to say Egypt is most wanting in this area. You are not, alas, Luxemberg, surrounded by treaty signatories under the rule of law.

            Once again, the High Court has already said you cannot expelled them, and the State has admitted them in residency. The only hearing they have had is that residency permit–which must mean they are either awaiting a hearing or just had their hearing.

            You want them out and are going to contort the law to that end. As I have said before–just abrogate the treaty and be done with it. Why would you want to be a signatory to such at thing? There must be a reason, no?

            Reply to Comment
          • The Trespasser

            >You are not, alas, Luxemberg, surrounded by treaty signatories under the rule of law.

            The fact that Israel is surrounded by semi-savage countries where human rights simply does not exist, does not mean that Israel is obliged to uphold these rights at all costs.

            >You want them out…

            I’ve never said that I want them out.

            All I want is them to stop taking jobs and stealing bicycles from my fellow citizens.

            Too much, huh?

            Reply to Comment
    3. Bill Inaz

      It’s amazing how people decide to leave their own country but and neglect to assure their ability to comply with the expectations that will be applied to them. Everyone but them must follow the rules.

      Reply to Comment
    4. The Interior Ministry has created a no man’s area in law. Releasing a refugee into the State without the ability to legally work creates a crime, enforced or not, for the refugee will try and survive. The State thus becomes complicit in lower wages with threats of arrest; that is, the State creates involuntary servitude, and the crimes associated with the refugee attach to the State, as the State has induced them by creating an impossible situation. On top of this, the State is allowed to opt out of judicial oversight, deciding guilt and public danger for itself, as, i.e., when administrative detention confines someone otherwise allowed to meet bail by the Municipal Court.

      For this class of person, the law is made to quash the very concept of individual right, converting a refugee recognized by treaty into an object; objects are neither declared people nor given refuge. The hypocrisy relative to the refugee treaty is overwhelming; I can only presume that Israel signed the treaty anticipating a better class of refugees.

      Due process is destroyed, and the courts, at the highest level, confrom to the wishes of the State. At the very least, the High Court could have remanded the woman with forged work permits for trial, letting a court of the first instance decide if she is a threat to public safety. By failing even that, the Court has abrogated its review power, linking racial class as applied to access to the law.

      I am reminded of apartheid South Africa, where a lawyer once said “this would be protected in law if we had a judiciary.”

      Abrogate the treaty. Stop destroying your law through subterfuge.

      Reply to Comment
      • The Trespasser

        >Releasing a refugee into the State without the ability to legally work creates a crime, enforced or not, for the refugee will try and survive.

        Introducing a large mass of a cheap labour to an unprepared market imminently would impact citizens of the state who are doing these jobs.

        Apparently you are not grasping numbers.
        Population of Tel Aviv is about 400 000, of all ages, about 50% is 22-60. Refugees are numbered probably is high as 25 000 – 30 000, which comprises more than 15% of total available fork force.

        Only people who have not even slightest idea about the economics would suggest that state should create conditions where unemployment might rise by as much as 10%

        Reply to Comment
        • The law is not about economic calculus. You have a pronounced tendency to formulate the law as if it existed for the State; radically, it does not, for society is more than the State. If you are going to admit them under treaty then they minimally must be allowed to work or be placed in camps. Germany does both. But note that recently in Germany camp inmates were allowed to protest march in favor of being granted work visas and so dispersed from the camps. This would not happen in Israel; once in a camp, you will stay there–period.

          Passer notes that by denying oversight to Interior Ministry decisions these people are removed from due process and the rule of law. A law of exclusion is building in your land. You may find it congenial now, but it will come to control you, not conversely.

          Reply to Comment
          • The Trespasser

            >The law is not about economic calculus.

            The law is about economic calculus as well, which is why I can’t just travel to Germany or USA and start working there.

            >radically, it does not, for society is more than the State.

            State exists and works to safeguard interests of it’s citizens.

            >If you are going to admit them under treaty then they minimally must be allowed to work or be placed in camps.

            Not truth. Treaty does not define whether host state is obliged to provide jobs, shelter or anything to refugees.

            >Germany does both.

            Good. So why wouldn’t they take all the refugees? Huh?

            >This would not happen in Israel; once in a camp, you will stay there–period.

            Which is one of a very few good things done by the government.

            >Passer notes that by denying oversight to Interior Ministry decisions these people are removed from due process and the rule of law.

            Again – the state of Israel is not obliged to provide shelter or employment to refugees. There is simply no such law. Passer are notorious for making things up while silencing inconvenient facts.

            >A law of exclusion is building in your land. You may find it congenial now, but it will come to control you, not conversely.

            The law in this case defending interests of permanent residents of this entire land.

            Obviously, you wouldn’t know that these refugees had taken a great many of jobs on which Palestinians were employed and are in part responsible for unemployment rise in territories. How would you? Passer surely wouldn’t write anything like that.

            Reply to Comment

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