Last week, noted African asylum seeker organizer Mutasim Ali, 27, was given a summons to report to prison, which he promptly circulated on Facebook. Mutasim is a fixture of the refugee community. He is the interim CEO of the African Refugee Development Center and one of the coordinators of the three-day strike where over 20,000 demonstrated in front of the U.S. Embassy and the Knesset. When I covered the protest in Tel Aviv weeks ago, Mutasim’s recognition in the community was overwhelming. Crowds cheered his name when he addressed the rallies. Since mid-December testimonies have surfaced that African asylum seekers are being summoned to report to a desert detention facility, and now this leader has been ordered to give up his life in Tel Aviv and turn himself in.
“I really expected it and I knew that they will give me a summons to Holot,” Mutasim said, referring to a detention center being used for asylum seekers. He explained that he is both a target for his activism and at risk under the same imprisonment policies as any other asylum seeker:
‘First, my leadership to the protests, to make the community feel desperate, weaker and to lose the faith. Second, I am also a refugee like other friends who got summoned to Holot. I feel very bad and sorry about it, yet I am not worried about my personal issue, but there thousands before me going to prison for no reason other than they fled dictatorships and systematic genocide, and those reasons are not good enough to be a refugee in Israel. I will do my best not to make it there, but when the time comes, I’ll have to cooperate with authorities and report there.’
Mondoweiss has now obtained a copy of the summons that refugees have dubbed the “white paper.”
By request, the refugee’s name and personal information has been redacted. The order calls for the asylum seeker to report to the facility where they will “receive adequate living conditions, including medical and welfare services.” The government is also providing transport to the prison, a chartered bus that departs from Tel Aviv:
State of Israel – Population and Immigration Authority
Invitation to attend the Residence Facility, according to the Law for the Prevention of Infiltration, Chapter Dalet
State of Israel – Temporary License
Category- Article 2(alef)5 of the Law
Date of Birth
This temporary license does not constitute a work permit
Valid Until: 26 Jan. 2014
Issued at: Oz Immigration Unit
Date: 26 Jan. 2014
Signature of Official: Levi Netanel, Senior Coordinator
According to Article 32Dalet(alef) of the Law for the Prevention of Infiltration (Offences and Judgment) 2013, and according to the Residence Order given to you, you must attend the Residence Facility no later than 26 Jan. 2014 at 9AM. At the Residence Facility you will receive adequate living conditions, including medical and welfare services, and you will not be permitted to work in Israel.
According to Article 32kaf(aleph)(6) of the Law, those who do not appear at the Center at the date given in the Residence Order risk being sent to custody.
An organized ride to the Residence Facility will leave the following address: Yigal Alon St., Tel Aviv, near the Nokia Stadium.
Attached is an information sheet in your language.
Date: 26 Jan. 2014
Name of Official: [signature]
[Translation by Tom Pessah]
This “Invitation to attend the Residence Facility” was issued to an African asylum seeker by the Population and Immigration Authority in late December. The refugee in question had intended to renew a three-month conditional release document, which functions like a visa, allowing asylum seekers to remain in Israel but not work or seek social services. Because a majority of the 60,000 African asylum seekers are from countries that do not have diplomatic relations with Israel, or their homes countries are in the midst of violent conflict, Israel is unable to enforce a mass deportation. In the past few weeks 1,800 have been issued summons to report to Holot, although the facility has beds for over 3,000.
Prison summons aside, Israel has not made in roads to review filed asylum claims, which have been on hold since 2009 with the recent exemption of two individuals. As a result, asylum seekers exist in Israel under a strange legal status that allows them to remain without criminalization, so long as they renew paperwork every three months..
Holot opened its doors last fall as Israel’s answer for a looming refugee crisis. Around the same time the Knesset passed a law extending detention for those who entered the country illegally for up to one-year and a half, although this was against international refugee conventions to which Israel is a signatory. However, for the past month those who have been in the country for more than four years are having their so-called visas revoked and instead being presented with the “white paper” demanding the African refugees report to prison.
Still, nearly all of the 60,000 asylum seekers have already been through the detention process upon first entering the country through the Sinai border. When asylum seekers arrived in the past, they were transferred to a prison for a two-week to one-month period where they were registered for a conditional release form and given a medical review. After which, the refugees were dumped from prison in Tel Aviv’s Levinsky Park, near the central bus station.
However, newer arrivals to Israel have not been released after an intake process and alternatively sent to Saharonim prison in the Negev, where they resided in barracks and refurbished shipping cartons behind barbed wire. After Israel’s high court intervened long-term detainees could no longer legally continue to be imprisoned. Around 500 have been transferred from Saharonim to Holot, a prison with furlough hours, meaning the asylum seekers are able to leave the facility for a few hours but must report for a line-up three times a day.
Holot’s extended yard hours are used by Israeli authorities as a legal loophole to classify it as a “residence facility” and not a prison, thus enabling indefinite detention of asylum seekers. Holot is racial ghetto behind guards and locked metal doors.
On a personal note, over the past month I’ve interviewed Mutasim on a number of occasions. He arrived in Israel four years ago after fleeing genocide in Darfur, and that alone should make him deserving of a legal status as a protected person. He speaks English, Hebrew and his native Arabic. He’s got a killer sense of style. He’s met with Knesset members and helped stage unprecedented demonstrations in Israel and his shoes are always glossy no matter how many hours of marching. His leadership style is one of accessibility. He’s impressive, not just as an orator, but he’s almost embarrassingly kind and optimistic that Israel will grant him and tens of thousands of other refugees their right to a fair and transparent asylum process.
But Mutasim now will have to live in prison, and myself, by virtue of my American passport, Jewish heritage and profession, am free to move about with the ease of any citizen in a democratic country. Neither he nor I are citizens of Israel, and the fact of our de jure freedoms, and lack of freedoms, is blatant proof that there is no semblance of democracy here. It shouldn’t be this way.