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Waiting in Holot: From the Interview to Detention

Our Board Member Osman Ali fled the genocide in Darfur and arrived in Israel in 2012. Since October, he has been detained in the Holot Detention Center in the middle of the Negev Desert with 3,050 other African asylum seekers who all wait in uncertainty. Osman describes his experience below.

I first arrived in the Holot detention camp on Wednesday, October 21 at 12:30pm with 50 Eritreans. Already there were many people waiting ahead of us--some of them had come for interviews and some had come from Saharonim prison. These interviews were the same as the one I had two weeks ago in Bnei Brak—the place the Ministry of the Interior (MOI) designated as the special place for asylum seekers to be interviewed, keeping them away from the official offices of the MOI. Bnei Brak is far to the north of Tel Aviv, almost an hour by bus from south Tel Aviv where most asylum seekers live. Often the MOI changes its rules and regulations, and asylum seekers can never feel completely secure. I have to renew my conditional release visa every two months, and there are only three places where I can go to do this: Bnei Brak (1 hour by bus), Be’er Sheva (1.5 hours by bus), and Eilat (6 hours by bus.) If we forget to renew our visa on time, we are in huge trouble.

I know that the people in front of us will be back in Holot soon after their interviews. Generally, the interviewers tell the asylum seekers that the government will summon them to Holot and then ask them if they agree or not. If an asylum seeker says no, the interviewer will ask him why? Regardless of the reason you give, the interviewer will request evidence. As far as I know, no asylum seeker has been exempted from his Holot summons, despite sickness or assistance from lawyers. The procedural due process that asylum seekers are entitled is not followed. The interview is a show and the summons to detention is repeated in each one.

My interview for Holot was on October 7. I still remember my interview so clearly. After being called in, I had to wait two hours for a translator. They asked where I was from, and I said Sudan. What part? Darfur. They said that I could not be from Darfur though I had my documents with me as proof. Then they told me that the MOI decided to summon me to Holot for one year. I asked what will happen after Holot, and the agent said that he doesn’t know. He said that this is not my country and that we came here to take away their jobs. This is why I got my Holot summons--because I take away their jobs? He said yes, though all the MOI agents we meet have their jobs because of us.

Around 400 people were waiting at Holot to be interviewed that day, and we had to wait until they finished their interviews. They didn't finish until 5pm. From 12:30pm-5:00pm, we waited. They distributed chocolate sandwiches to us, as we waited for them to call us for registration. My registration was not completed until 3:30 am. I remember that it was cold that day. If you have not seen it, Holot is enclosed by fences about 5 meters tall and I could not go anywhere as I waited. By the time I reached my bed in the early hours of the morning, I was exhausted. I was hungry and cold and there was no one to ask for help. I was only the Sudanese in the room where I was told to go in, and the rest were Eritrean but it's not a big deal. Over the next three days, I went around with friends to familiarize myself with Holot. My best friend Hassan had been in Holot already for five months and another friend Adam arrived recently. It’s good to have friends here, but I don’t know what my future will be after.

My life began in Holot, and I settled into a routine. I wake up early in the morning and I teach English class for beginners from 9am to 10:30am and another class from 10:30am to noon. After teaching, I have lunch. The rest of the day is spent in different activities: reading, writing and seeing friends. Leaving Holot is always complicated. I have to have my fingerprints taken at each gate I go through. When I leave Holot, I have to sign three times and at least twice to go to another section of Holot.

Life is difficult here, but there is no other choice for us. We accept it because we are stronger in another people’s country. We too will have peace in our country one day and will live a better life.

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