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Friday, June 5, 2020

Meet 5 African asylum seekers who have been summoned to Israel’s desert prison

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[Update, Feb. 4: “>Holot, Israel's new “open” prison camp for illegal immigrants, picked up a group of asylum seekers in “>wrote on Twitter that only 11 of the 65 asylum seekers ordered to report to Holot today showed up to the bus boarding. “The bus has departed,” he

In total, according to Israeli newspaper “>Channel 7 reported that it “can be expanded to hold as many as 11,000.”

Basically, as I “>At a rally in Levinksy Park last week, worried whispers of “Holot” ran through the crowd like an uninvited ghost. One man had torn out a few stories about Holot from Hebrew-language newspapers, and was examining the photos with a frown. A couple other groups of asylum seekers went through the letters summoning them to Holot line by line, translating where necessary.

It may seem strange to outsiders, but over the past eight years or so, this neighborhood has become an unlikely home for about 35,000 of Israel's 55,000 asylum seekers — mainly Christians and Muslims who fled violent and authoritarian regimes Eritrea and Sudan. (They are also concentrated heavily in the southern resort town of Eilat.) I felt like I'd been teleported to northern Africa when I first moved to “>Protests at Israeli consulates around the world and a week-long “>I first met charismatic Darfuri community leader Mutasim Ali, 27, at the annual memorial rally in North Tel Aviv for assassinated Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. (He is pictured above at said rally, during his historic campaign to become the first African refugee on the Tel Aviv City Council.) Ali, who has lived in Israel for four years, was the only asylum seeker present at the October event — a devoted activist for months before the community rallied around him by the tens of thousands this January.

At the rally, Ali told me: “Rabin believed in dignity; he wanted everybody that goes to work to feel respected in this world. And in terms of asylum seekers, there is something that needs to be very clear: They came looking for protection. They want to give back to their country. … There is an opportunity to make some changes here, if we believe in the vision of Rabin.”

Along with around a dozen other key African organizers, Ali built momentum for the game-changing January protests by posting fliers, sending out Facebook and text alerts and holding daily planning meetings in Levinksy Park. (“>posted a photo of Ali holding up his Holot papers yesterday. “Mutasim Ali, 1st non-Jewish African to run for Tel Aviv city council, was just ordered to the Holot internment camp,” wrote Blumenthal. The status was re-Tweeted over 100 times.

Ali is currently working with other leaders in his community to devise a group strategy in response to the Holot roundup. (And if anyone can do it, this man can.)

“>the dilapidated, half-empty Central Bus Station. When I visited him on a recent Monday, as reported in ““>visited the week before.) He also asked if I thought he'd be able to travel back and forth to his shop.

That would be quite a stretch. Although inmates are technically allowed to come and go, they must check in to Holot three times a day. From what I've gathered, they are allowed to apply for 24-hour leave, but they need a good reason. And I imagine Musa would soon tire of the eight-hour round trip from Holot to Tel Aviv by bus.

Some 50 inmates at Holot reportedly left during the day and never returned. But according to “>the most recent rally in Levinsky Park.

“>the Tarnegol restaurant in Jaffa in celebration of Sudanese culture, asylum seeker and chef Hassan Shakur, 26, was swarmed by news microphones.

Shakur has hosted workshops for Kitchen Talks before — a semi-annual event that tackles segregation in Tel Aviv by uniting African chefs and Israeli eaters — but this one was bittersweet. This one would double as his goodbye party.

For one more night at Tarnegol, “>he reportedly wrote in his biography of genocide in Darfur.

In the meantime, Shakur has done his best to get to know Tel Aviv. “We are isolated,” he told “>anti-government riots in Thailand blared on a small TV set hung over the refrigerator, while Terhas cooked a spongy Eritrean flatbread called injera on the stove.

When Hagous was summoned to Holot, he said he “felt very shocked. It makes you crazy.” 

He explained: “I cannot go back to Eritrea. The government of Israel also knows that we have a dictator and many, many problems. So it makes you shocked when they give you [an invitation to] Holot.”

And now that he has been barred from making a living, Hagous is slowly going mad from the uncertainty of his family's future. He said he spends his days walking between the Ministry of Interior and NGO offices, trying to find some way out of his dilemma.

Bana, his wife's 21-year-old sister, said that sometimes her Russian-Israeli neighbors get angry at her: “They say, 'Why are you here? Go back to your country.'” She said she wishes that she could find somewhere to live where she could go to school, because she wants to be a doctor.

During our interview at his home, Hagous and his family discussed

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