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Eritrean asylum seekers on hunger strike to protest detention without trial

Asylum seekers return meals for fifth straight day in protest of administrative detention, NGOs report.

Refugees pose in front of a poster of Saharonim prison, during World Refugee Day in tel Aviv on June 20, 2013. (Keren Manor/Activestills.org)

(Updated below)

Some 350 Eritrean asylum seekers are in the fifth day of a hunger strike protesting their administrative detention in an Israeli prison.

Asylum seekers in Block 3 of the Saharonim detention facility began a hunger strike on Saturday June 22, according to the Hotline for Migrant Workers and Physicians for Human Rights. A day later, detainees in Block 4 began returning their meals as well.

Nearly 2,000 African asylum seekers are being held in Israeli prison facilities under the Anti-Infiltration Law, passed last year, which allows the indefinite (three years at a time) administrative detention of asylum seekers without trial.

The protest is quite extraordinary, explained Hotline for Migrant Workers activist Elizabeth Tsurkov, “considering that the hunger strikers, Eritreans, come from an undemocratic country where no protest is tolerated.”

“This type of resistance is not something they learned at home,” she added.

A statement by Physicians for Human Rights Israel and the Hotline for Migrant workers said that the NGO has been unable to speak with the hunger-striking prisoners since Sunday. Detainees have been barred from using telephones in the prison blocks since Sunday, the statement added, and called on the Israel Prison Service to allow NGOs to meet with hunger striking detainees.

Update (June 27, 11:30 p.m.):
The detainees in Block 4 began eating again Thursday afternoon, Israel Prison Service spokeswoman Sivan Weitzman told +972. Some 170 detainees are currently classified as hunger strikers, she added.

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    1. rsgengland

      The vast majority of these people are “economic refugees” in search of a better life, and in most cases could be repatriated back home.
      They will get into some form of trouble if they return home; mainly because they left their countries illegally and have brought visibility to themselves by being caught in Israel.
      Most would have been unknown and not in danger before they left.
      There is a substantial difference between Political Asylum Seekers and economic refugees.

      Reply to Comment
      • If your designation of economic refugee could be sustained, they, as others previously, would have been deported. This prison camp is designed to isolate those that the government feels (or fears) will not be so classed thus under the international refugee convention. Each individual deposited in this camp is a decision not to attempt the economic vs political refugee determination. A prior ruling of the High Court has said they cannot be deported without such a designation; this camp is just a way to abide by the letter of the convention without the promise of asylum to better life.

        Once again, if you want to get rid of these people, just abrogate the convention; surely the government can do that. The camp as it is just makes a hypocrisy of the law.

        Reply to Comment
      • David Jacobus

        What Rsgengland says is absolute nonsense. Since the state reviews like NO cases, we can’t really know that. Furthermore, Israel’s behavior thus far has indicated a total lack of commitment to complying with the Refugee Convention, so it’s not like we expect Israel to recognize many cases. What’s shocking to me is that people can make these “economic migrant” arguments without knowing anything. The US WITHDREW their consular division from Eritrea – the Wikicable on the matter indicated that the President is an “unhinged dictator” – a cursory review of US Department of State literature reveals that Eritrea is a hellish authoritarian dictatorship. Nearly all of the Eritreans here qualify under a death warrant by the army. What you think you know probably comes from an MK educated in a yeshiva, not an actual informed person.

        The Trespasser thinks that refuge involves being put in a prison, as if the Convention contemplates merely being away from menace as implementation of the convention. What is embarrassing is that refugee are supposed to be allowed to live and work freely, which large percentages are allowed to do in all the countries not named “Israel”. The Trespasser has little to no idea about reality.

        You liars and distorters of truth, motivated by your latent or patent racist attitudes, are imperiling this group of worthy asylees when you spread such nonsense into the atmosphere. You’re like those who talked bad about Jews as the St. Louis approached the US – doubting their story, probably not even researching anything but their own racist inclinations.

        Reply to Comment
        • The Trespasser

          >What is embarrassing is that refugee are supposed to be allowed to live and work freely…

          In your fantasy world, maybe, but not in real life.

          No state is obliged to provide jobs to asylum seekers, even if they comprise 10% – 20% of working population in areas of their residence.

          It would be very easy to prove me wrong – bring up an international law which would clearly state that all states are obliged to give jobs to anyone who claims asylum.

          After you miserably fail, you can proceed to removal of your brains from between your buttocks.

          Reply to Comment
    2. Israeli Government is doing a big mistake up on the Eritrean refugee…in these present world Israel should take care of refugee more than any countries as they are scattered in all over the world…you Israelites forgetting your history of holocaust and the other trouble you have passed though….

      Reply to Comment
    3. The Trespasser

      State might not be allowed to deport all “asylum seekers”, but it is certainly not obliged to grant them residency or allow them to wander about freely.

      They came because they are afraid for their lives? Than what’s the problem? Nothing menaces them in these camps.

      Reply to Comment