HOLOT – Holot is an open detention facility in the Negev for Sudanese and Eritrean asylum seekers who have arrived in Israel. A group from the Latin Patriarchate’s Pastoral among Migrants visited the facility on Thursday, May 15, 2014.
Thirteen priests and sisters from the Latin Patriarchate’s Pastoral among Migrants, including the coordinator, Latin Patriarchal Vicar Father David Neuhaus, paid a visit to the Holot detention facility, accompanied by Elisheva, from Physicians for Human Rights.
The Holot facility was set up after the December 2013 Knesset legislation allowed the authorities to transfer Sudanese and Eritrean asylum seekers to this Negev location. The facility now holds about 2300 people, all men, who are obliged to sleep in the facility and have to be counted three times a day. They can leave during the day however the facility is situated in the middle of the Negev Desert, a long distance from the nearest town. In addition, the inmates do not have the means to pay transport to leave the place.
Only two members of the group, Father David and Sister Azezet, entered the facility accompanied by Elisheva. The rest of the group stayed outside and met with a group of inmates who explained to them their situation and life in this place.
The three who entered were accompanied by inmates who took them on a two hour two of the huge compound that can now hold 3300 people (although there are only 2300 at present). Inmates are ten to a room and the sprawling compound is divided into sections that are locked at night. There is nothing to do inside and community organization is still in its initial stages with very little resources to build on. Inside the group encountered three Eritrean Orthodox priests among the inmates and were shown the room that also serves as a church. The vast majority of inmates are Christian. The grim surroundings, the heat and the overcrowded rooms created the impression of a prison. Much of the time was spent identifying more serious health problems of some of the inmates.
The three major issues repeated by the inmates were:
- Why are we here? What crime have we committed? When will we be released?
- What are we to do with our time here? Please send us books. Please send us teachers. Please send us resources so that we can try to do something here!
- Please help us improve conditions here. Health care is almost absent. The food is very bad. The various agencies that are supposed to function here do not in fact function.
We noticed that there are more sections being constructed and it seems that the authorities plan to expand the facility. For now only unmarried men are being confined there. Let us remember that today there are about 50 000 asylum seekers in Israel. All of those we meet expressed great fear for their lives and liberty if they were forced to return to Sudan or Eritrea. Only 43 asylm seekers arrived in 2013 and the rest of them arrived from two to seven years ago. Here too Hebrew is the main language of communication between groups and with the authorities.
Let us indeed pray for our brothers in Holot. And let us find ways to be a support for them in their time of isolation and confinement.
Source : Saint James Vicariate for Hebrew Speaking Catholics in Israel