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Photo diary: Inside Israel's 'Holot' detention center for asylum seekers

In December 2013 Israel began populating the Holot detention facility for African asylum seekers, first with those who were held in other prisons and gradually with those who were until now living in Tel Aviv and other Israeli cities. The detainees at Holot are being held there without charge until they can be deported or such a time as their asylum claims are processed, which for many detainees means indefinitely.

Ahmad, who asked that we not use his last name in order to protect him from retribution by prison authorities, escaped from Darfur five and a half years ago and has been living in Israel ever since. Like many other asylum seekers, he recently was given a summons to report to Holot. Faced with no other option, Ahmad boarded an immigration police bus and arrived there on Sunday, February 1, 2014.

Prison authorities are not allowing photographers or journalists inside the Holot prison facility. The following are photos Ahmad took inside the detention facility. We hope to update this photo blog whenever possible with images — and occasionally text — in order to show what life is like inside Holot.

Read +972′s full coverage of asylum seekers in Israel

Day 43 – (March 17, 2014)

My employment notepad. We can work in maintenance  inside Holot. They pay you 20 NIS for 6 hours, and you need to work for at least 10 days to get the money.

My employment notepad, March 18, 2014. (Ahmad)

My employment notepad, March 18, 2014. (Ahmad)

Employment notepad, March 18, 2014. (Ahmad)

Employment notepad, March 18, 2014. (Ahmad)

Employment notepad, March 18, 2014. (Ahmad)

Employment notepad, March 18, 2014. (Ahmad)

Day 42 – (March 16, 2014)

Yesterday evening one guy in our room wasn’t feeling well. I went to talk with gate prison and told him about it. He answered that it is not his responsibility. After I showed him to the room I asked to call the doctor. He allowed us to go to the doctor but when we got to the clinic we understood he wasn’t really a doctor but a male nurse. He tried to check him and gave him only four capsules. He was very sick and couldn’t sleep all night. Nobody takes care of us here.

The Dexamol  capsules that my friend got, March 16, 2014. (Ahmad)

The Dexamol capsules that my friend got, March 16, 2014. (Ahmad)

Day 42 – (March 15, 2014)

These are the two lines in which we are standing to receive an allowance. We have to wait long hours in order to receive 160 shekels.

The line for our allowance, March 15, 2014. (Ahmad)

The line for our allowance, March 15, 2014. (Ahmad)

Day 41 – (March 14, 2014)

Taking a walk "outside", March 14, 2014. (Ahmad)

Taking a walk “outside”, March 14, 2014. (Ahmad)

Day 39 – (March 12, 2014)

Some friends near the gate, awaiting new comers, March 12, 2014. (Ahmad)

Some friends near the gate awaiting new comers, March 12, 2014. (Ahmad)

Some friends playing soccer near the gate, at guards await new-comers, March 12, 2014. (Ahmad)

Some friends playing soccer near the gate, at guards await new-comers, March 12, 2014. (Ahmad)

Day 37 – (March 10, 2014)

My breakfast, March 10, 2014. (Ahmad)

My breakfast, March 10, 2014. (Ahmad)

Our room, March 10, 2014. (Ahmad)

Our room, March 10, 2014. (Ahmad)

New people arriving, March 10, 2014. (Ahmad)

The guards at the gate, March 10, 2014. (Ahmad)

Day 36 – (March 9, 2014) 

A view on the gate. (Ahmad)

A view on the gate. (Ahmad)

We stay 10 people in one room. Going up and down our beds all day. One shower and toilette for us 10.

A View on our toliet which serves 10 people. (Ahmad)

A View on our toliet which serves 10 people. (Ahmad)

Dinner again. (Ahmad)

Dinner. (Ahmad)

Dinner again. (Ahmad)

Dinner. (Ahmad)

Day 21 – Day 26 (February 22 – February 27, 2014) 

Notes: My friend was sick and got these painkillers. Right after he took them he got even sicker, in his stomach too. We were all awake at night because he wasn’t feeling well. Nobody in Holot cares about you when you don’t feel well, there is no medical center, only a small room. You either need to take public transportation to Beer Sheva, or you need to walk. If it is really bad they take you. I think they are trying to kill us. It made me very sad. It is only because of the color of our skin.

I was sick and got this from the Dr, Holot, February 24, 2014.

My friend was sick and got this from the small room that they call a clinic, Holot, February 24, 2014. (Ahmad)

I was sick and got this from the Dr, Holot, February 24, 2014.

My friend was sick and got this from the small room they call a clinic, Holot, February 24, 2014. (Ahmad)

Notes: We get two cups of cheese and some jam for 10 people for breakfast. Sometimes we get dairy products, twice a week we get bread. Meat in lunch comes once a week on Thursday, and on Saturdays there is the worst food, as all the Israelis are on Shabbat. I get the feeling that they are trying to make us weaker and feel bad.

Our breakfast in Holot, February 23, 2014. (Ahmad)

Our breakfast in Holot, February 23, 2014. (Ahmad)

Our breakfast in Holot, February 23, 2014. (Ahmad)

Our breakfast in Holot, February 23, 2014. (Ahmad)

Notes: We are really bored here. We ask for the ability to study and they say no. Once the guard said we might be able to study English, but Hebrew for sure not. Every time we ask for something they say, “no, go back to your country.”

We keep food in the lockers, Holot, February 22, 2014. (Ahmad)

We keep food in the rooms because we get hungry, Holot, February 22, 2014. (Ahmad)

We keep food in the lockers, Holot, February 22, 2014. (Ahmad)

We keep food in the rooms because we get hungry, Holot, February 22, 2014. (Ahmad)

Day 8, (Monday, February 9, 2014)

My bed, Holot, February 9, 2014. (Ahmad)

My bed, Holot, February 9, 2014. (Ahmad)

Food, Holot, February 9, 2014. (Ahmad)

Food, Holot, February 9, 2014. (Ahmad)

Day 4 (Wednesday, February 5, 2014) 

"Lunch" at Holot, Fifth day, February 5, 2014. (Ahmad)

“Lunch” at Holot, Fifth day, February 5, 2014. (Ahmad)

"Lunch" at Holot, Fifth day, February 5, 2014. (Ahmad)

“Lunch” at Holot, Fifth day, February 5, 2014. (Ahmad)

Day 3 (Tuesday, February 4, 2014)

“My friend from Darfur was singing a song on the Long Walk for Freedom, to strengthen us. The situation here is very bad.”

My friend singing a freedom song, February 4, 2014. (Ahmad)

My friend singing a freedom song, February 4, 2014. (Ahmad)

A view in Holot, February 4, 2014. (Ahmad)

A view in Holot, February 4, 2014. (Ahmad)

The sign at the entrance to Holot detention center, February 4, 2014. (Ahmad)

The sign at the entrance to Holot detention center, February 4, 2014. (Ahmad)

Day 2 (Monday, February 3, 2014):

A view outside Holot, Second day, February 3, 2014. (Ahmad)

A view outside Holot. Day two, February 3, 2014. (Ahmad)

Cooking on the ground outside Holot, Second day, February 3, 2014. (Ahmad)

Cooking on the ground outside Holot. Day two, February 3, 2014. (Ahmad)

Food trays, evening at Holot, Second day, February 3, 2014. (Ahmad)

Food trays, evening at Holot. Day two, February 3, 2014. (Ahmad)


Day 1 (Sunday, February 2, 2014):

“We arrived at Holot. This doesn’t feel like an open camp at all, this is a real prison. They say it’s not true, that I’m free as a newborn, but this is not the case.”

"Lunch" at Holot, First day, February 2, 2014. (Ahmad)

“Lunch” at Holot. Day one, February 2, 2014. (Ahmad)

My room, Holot, First day, February 2, 2014. (Ahmad)

My room in Holot. Day one, February 2, 2014. (Ahmad)

"Lunch" at Holot, First day, February 2, 2014. (Ahmad)

“Lunch” at Holot. Day one, February 2, 2014. (Ahmad)

The line for the food at Holot, First day, February 2, 2014. (Ahmad)

The line for the food at Holot. Day one, February 2, 2014. (Ahmad)

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  • COMMENTS

    1. Joel

      Looks like a nice, clean place.
      What’s the problem?

      Reply to Comment
      • Tal

        Joel – there’s no problem at all. Why don’t you join them? You won’t be able to work, go as you please, persue your dreams, see your friends and family or even have a bit of privacy, but hey, it looks nice & clean! And if you are white you may even be treated like a human being.

        Reply to Comment
        • Kolumn9

          Why should he join them? Is he an illegal migrant that claims to have fled to Israel because he is afraid for his safety back home?

          They look very safe where they are. From the pictures it looks like the living conditions are good. For someone seeking temporary shelter in Israel this should be sufficient. It looks like a hostel with free food and medical care.

          Reply to Comment
      • JG

        That’s what they said about Terezin back then…

        Reply to Comment
        • Joel

          @JG

          Do you practice being an asshole, or does it just come natural?

          Reply to Comment
    2. shaun

      Who are the two white figures on the extreme left of the second photo?

      Reply to Comment
      • sh

        Took me a while to understand what you were talking about. How do you think the food being prepared got there? Take another look at the photos of the prison lunch.

        Reply to Comment
        • shaun

          Are you saying that those inside the center are being provided with food by people wearing civilian clothing?

          Reply to Comment
          • Nadav

            Shaun, those are volunteer visitors who brought food. A bunch of volunteers drives there every Saturday. They are not allowed in, but the inmates are allowed out for brief periods.

            Reply to Comment
          • Kolumn9

            The ‘inmates’ are allowed out?

            Reply to Comment
      • The Trespasser

        Food is not sufficiently delicious at the detention centre, so it is duty of pro-immigration activists to ensure that no asylum seeker perishes prematurely due to malnutrition.

        Reply to Comment
      • Joel

        One has a nice set of cans.
        Again. Where’s the problem?

        I eat the same bowl of oatmeal for breakfast every day.

        Reply to Comment
    3. Jaime

      For prison food it doesn’t look bad at all, other than no veg or fruit. Humus, pita, rice, a boiled egg. What’s the pink stuff?

      Reply to Comment
    4. Kolumn9

      One of the pictures looks like they are having a picnic *outside* of the facility along with people that have come to visit them. It feels like the complaint is that these people are not being treated like citizens or legal residents. That is because they are not. I see no particular reason why they should be granted permission to live in Tel Aviv and integrate fully into Israeli society.

      Reply to Comment
      • Julian

        These are people that are escaping persecution and genocide from their own countries, something many Jews have experienced (and some still experience in their own countries). Is that not enough reason to process their asylum requests and allow them to work and live where they please in Israel. It is cruel and inhumane to imprison these refugees after all they have been through and quite ironic considering Israel was founded in response to Jews escaping a very similar situation not so long ago.

        Reply to Comment
        • Joe

          They came from Egypt. They were not prosecuted in Egypt. They wanted to work and live in a western country. Once they entered Egypt they were refugees, but when they came to Israel they became work immigrants .

          Reply to Comment
          • Hana Wagner

            what is very sad here, is that nothing is bad enough. People used to compare. If you see some pictures of asylum seekers living in italian prisions, you will say, it is not so bad… If you are a refugee with a lot of problems but you have not passed raped, they also will say, you are not bad, you are lucky…
            and they send to you to hell if you ask help for making reality a dream. What on hell you want to ask for help if you are not asking for money to eat…
            the problem is not if looks like an poor hostel or if it is a hell. The problem is that is not fair to arrest asylum seekers. And if you claim that those people are not asylum seekers, you have to prove it. There is a way, direct and simple, and everything is said in the United Nation Convention for refugees of the year 1951 and its extends in the Protocol 1967.
            read it!
            learn it!

            Reply to Comment
          • The Trespasser

            >The problem is that is not fair to arrest asylum seekers.

            Nonsense. Just nonsense.
            1) International Law does not operate in terms of some subjective “fairness”.
            2) It is PERFECTLY legal to detain asylum seekers as long as it deemed necessary.

            >And if you claim that those people are not asylum seekers, you have to prove it.

            Nonsense. It is asylum seekers who should prove that their life is in danger, no vice versa.

            >There is a way, direct and simple, and everything is said in the United Nation Convention for refugees of the year 1951 and its extends in the Protocol 1967.

            Even more nonsense. I bet you had never read convention and protocol.

            Reply to Comment
          • Susan Freiman

            What you say about Egypt is not true. Not only is it dangerous for Christians (many of the refugees are Christians). Egypt sends many refugees back to Eritrea.

            Reply to Comment
      • Ayla

        K “Sherlock Holmes” 9–yes, they are having a picnic, provided by visitors, just outside the prison security. Activists are posting photos of their visits, which all take place just outside security–all over the place; this is no secret. This way, Prison security doesn’t have to let visitors in, and people can convene. I would concede that this the only benefit of the so-called openness of Holot vs. another prison, though there are many more upsides to the other prisons, according to inmates. That said (please keep reading), once prisoners go through the heavy security, one by one, to walk outside the gate, they’re in the desert with no where to go, and they have to be back inside a few hours later, so this benefit is only a benefit when people visit, and the prison is hard to get to.

        Reply to Comment
    5. bob wisby

      The pictures would be more horrifying if presented in grainy, black and white format. Colour introduces too much nuance, too much normalcy. Thank God for monochrome photography!

      Reply to Comment
    6. Fr. Athanasius G.

      I am so saddened by the fact that these people suffered so much persecution in their homeland. To be subjected to so much hatred and mistreatment in Israel, by people who themselves have suffered the same persecution throughout their history, is wast is appalling to me. Israel actually recognizes that Eritrea and Darfur are places to which they cannot return. Why not give them temporary visa to allow them to stay in the country with some dignity until the situation in their home countries change? Sad! Sad! Racism is still alive and well – yes, in Israel!

      Reply to Comment
      • DerAsylant

        these poor men look lonely and sex depraved. i´m calling out every activist, humanitarian and human rights sympathizer to do something about this sad situation.every honest anti racist should ask his (preferently feamle and pale skined) acquaintances and relatives to help out.

        Reply to Comment
    7. If you want to help those imprisoned in Holot, you can now donate through this crowdfunding project to help pay for visits to Holot of community members and Israeli supporters, food and equipment. The visits help raise the morale of the prisoners, showing them that they are not forgotten, and it’s also a very useful way to monitor what’s going on in the prison and disseminate the information:

      http://www.mimoona.co.il/Projects/1618#.Uw855u3YaDM.facebook

      Reply to Comment
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