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12 April 2020 – Israel

Volunteers with the African Refugee Development Center prepare to deliver food packages to African asylum seekers in south Tel Aviv, April 3, 2020. (ARDC / Times of Israel
Volunteers with the African Refugee Development Center prepare to deliver food packages to African asylum seekers in south Tel Aviv, April 3, 2020. (ARDC / Times of Israel

Israel has implemented several measures impacting migrants and asylum seekers as well as prisoners. While one NGO, Hotline for Refugees and Migrants, has reported that they were been able to get some people released from immigration detention since the crisis began, the GDP has found no additional reports detailing what, if any, measures are being taken by authorities in administrative immigration detention centres. There have also been increasing calls by rights actors demanding that Israel release Palestinian children held in Israeli jails, in particular as prisoners’ exposure to the coronavirus has increassed.

In a 11 April interview with the Times of Israel, an advocate from the group Hotline explained that since the crisis began they have been emphasizing in their work getting asylum seekers released from detention: “Someone can be in jail for six months for a very light felony, and then they are suddenly transferred to administrative detention. All it takes is a decision by an official from the Population and Immigration Authority, who deems them a danger to society. … At that point, they can be held for a year or even two. So we try to get them released and give them legal representation. It’s become more urgent now, because there is a risk of mass contagion in prisons. In recent weeks we have been able to release seven people, and we are currently representing 10 more in an attempt to set them free.”

Israel closed its borders in mid-March, barring all non-citizens from entering the country to curb the spread of Covid-19. The Population and Immigration Authority said that an exception would be made for non-nationals whose “centre of life is in Israel.” The Ministry of the Interior then extended all visas for non-citizens that are currently in Israel until 30 June 2020.

Also in early March, authorities suspended all family visits to the country’s prisons as well as lawyers’ visits. These and other measures provoked widespread protests in prisons, in particular after reports that prisoners had been exposed to security personnel who had tested positive for Covid-19. According to Haaretz (23 March), “Palestinian prisoners serving sentences in Israeli jails for security-related offenses are threatening to go on a hunger strike to protest measures enforced by the Israel Prison Service, seeking to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. The prisoners object to searches conducted in their cells by prison guards without any protective gloves or face masks, as well as a ban on leaving cells and meeting their attorneys and family members, who the prison service fears might infect prisoners or guards with the virus if allowed into prisons.”

On 1 April 2020, a Palestinian prisoner released from Ofer prison who had spent 12 days detained alongside 36 people, tested positive for Covid-19. However, even after being notified of this, the Israeli prison administration announced no plans to release or even test the prisoners held there.

Defense for Children International Palestine (DCIP) reported on 19 March: “Four Palestinian prisoners detained at Israel’s Megiddo prison, located inside Israel northwest of the occupied West Bank city of Jenin, were placed in isolation after they were in contact with a COVID-19 positive Israeli officer. … Megiddo prison is one of several detention facilities located inside Israel where Palestinian child ‘security prisoners’ are held. ‘We know the best way to prevent the spread of COVID-19 is for people to avoid being in close proximity to each other, said Ayed Abu Eqtaish, Accountability Program director at DCIP. ‘There is no way Israeli prison authorities can ensure the health and well-being of Palestinian child detainees as long as they continue to be in a custodial detention setting.’ An investigation by DCIP previously found Palestinian child prisoners detained in Israel’s Damon prison were held in poor conditions, including small rooms without access to clean and private bathroom facilities. Conditions such as these increase risks and exposure to unsanitary conditions where the COVID-19 virus thrives.”