An Arrest Transforms a Refugee from Economic Potential into a Burden
|April 25th, 2018|
|tags:||Holot, human-rights, Maayan Ravid, refugee incarceration|
Her research deals with both the refugee population, and the disadvantaged Israeli residents of south Tel Aviv. Our interview was conducted at the entrance of this mid-desert detention facility. Ravid comes here three times a week. On her way, she drives by the "Saharonim" Prison, where asylum seekers are jailed together with Palestinian security detainees. During the interview, she would also introduce me to a few Erythrinas who speak fluent Hebrew.
fairplanet: What does "Refugee Incarceration Research" even mean?
Maayan Ravid: "It's a legal and criminological discipline, which examines the relationship between disciplining and immigration. It has been developing during the past decade in the US, UK, and Australia. The research is mostly done by women, and focuses on the increasing use of refugee incarceration as a practice, and of the legal terminology stemming from criminal law. For instance, we're trying to trace a rule, to see who gets released, and who doesn't. It's implemented in Israel in the bluntest way with regards to African immigrants, Asians, and South Americans. There are 100k immigrants from the former USSR and Georgia, who entered on a tourist visa, but they don't get deported, and many of them are marrying spouses from within their ethnic group, so that most of them stay in Israel."
Are you saying that a country doesn't have the right to protect its borders?
"Quite the contrary. A country has the duty to define its borders and immigration policy, but all over the world, we see two objectives for which immigrants are incarcerated: in order to check that the immigrant doesn't pose a threat, or whether they're transgressing the law. "Holot", on the other hand, was established in order to prevent illegal immigrants from settling down in city centres. That's basically unheard of, it's a law section that doesn't exist anywhere else in the world."
What is the problem with refugee incarceration, really?
"If an immigrant enters illegally, a country can retain them for a month or two, that should suffice to determine who they are, and whether or not they pose any threat. When you see that they do not pose a threat, and after they've applied for asylum, you have to release them. But in Israel, the entire African population is managed according to the Prevention of Infiltration Law, which was enacted in 1954. This law states that the new borders of the country are too penetrable, and that Palestinian groups manage to get through and infiltrate the country, which is why the law allows putting them in security detention for longer periods, without any legal-criminal protection."
How does the court legitimize this prolonged detention?
"In 2012 the Supreme Court ruled that the Prevention of Infiltration Law was wrongful, because it was in violation of the Israeli Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty, but then the state argued that "Holot" was merely an open facility, which conducts a headcount three times a day. In the remaining time, the people staying there were free to go out and walk around as they wish, and for as long as they wish, but they were not allowed to work. The question of where they are supposed to walk around, in the middle of the desert, was never discussed. The court overruled that suggested amendment too, so the state came up with a new argument, namely the "prevention of settlement in city centres", which is basically saying 'we're going to place people in "Holot" in order to lift the pressure off of South Tel Aviv and Eilat, where the immigrants' density is the highest'. The court eventually accepted this argument as a worthy cause, and only asked that the infiltrators get jailed for one year, instead of 18 months."
And what actually happening in the case of "Holot"?
"The "Holot" detention facility is the world's largest incarceration facility of its kind. It can host up to 3,300 inmates, and that is only the first out of three stages that are in planning. The current situation is that people who have been living in Israel for five, eight, or even ten years, have to sit in prison for one year. These are people who did everything the state told them to do, who were doing everything right. The state didn't officially allow them to work, but it was agreed that it would not be enforced, meaning that the state agreed to let them work, so some of them are people who have been working for all those years in hotels, in restaurants, in other words, they sorted themselves out. And all of a sudden, when they come to renew their residence permit at the Population and Immigration Authority, which they have to do once every two months, they're suddenly told that they'd be staying at a detention facility in the middle of the desert. Instead of the extension, they get summoned to "Holot". Those who didn't show up, did not receive their residence permits. If there were any employers who wanted to hire them legally, according to the rules, they couldn't – because nobody wanted to risk facing charges. So, most of them had no choice, and they indeed showed up. They listen to what they're told, because they entered a country that isn't their own, and they respect the rules. They put it this way: 'If the state says 'you stay here', I'm going to stay.', and that's why they are here."
And what's going to happen now with the deportation?
"Now the state is saying 'move to Rwanda and Uganda, and if you don't, you're going to "Saharonim" Prison'. And most of them are going to agree, because they simply can't go to Rwanda and Uganda. We can clearly see, and there is a lot of evidence to support this, that when they get to Rwanda, their papers are taken from them, usually together with the money they got in Israel. Many are stuck there without refugee status, which means that they can't work there, and that they have no rights. I'm not saying that the state is sending them to their death, but it is sending them to a country that doesn't allow them to work and make a living. And from there, they're tossed into a state of illegal immigration, from which most people don't get out alive."
What are you suggesting?
"I say: these refugees are already here. There are more or less 40k of them. Nobody's the least bit phased by it, in demographic terms. They've already learned the language, they've settled down, they've got Israeli friends, they can make a decent living without damaging Israel in any way. I'm not only talking about South Tel Aviv – that's something that can easily be resolved. The most important thing is to remind ourselves that refugees aren't entering Israel anymore, there won't be new ones. So, at the moment, this issue could be resolved easily."
Do you have international examples of integration done right?
"Germany received almost a million Syrian refugees over the last year, in an informed and correct manner. They researched and found villages and areas that were short on medical doctors, or a certain workforce, and distributed the refugees accordingly. The same could be done here – turning the refugees into economic value, instead of a burden on the state, which is the case with imprisonment in "Saharonim" and "Holot"."
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