Weinstein orders asylum seeker freed after years of appeals

Darfur native Mutasim Ali to be released from Holot detention center, vows to keep fighting for fellow migrants

After two and a half years of legal wrangling, a Sudanese asylum seeker detained in the Holot detention center was ordered freed by Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein on Monday, after his numerous attempts to request asylum through Israel’s court system were repeatedly delayed or rejected.

Weinstein ruled that Mutasim Ali, 28, a Darfur native and vocal proponent of migrant rights in Israel, be released from the facility “without delay,” after his appeals to challenge the legality of his detention had been continuously “ignored” by the justice system, Hebrew media reported.

Residing in Israel since 2009, Ali has been held for the past 14 months in Holot, despite his petitions for refugee status, which he lodged in December 2012.

Holot is an “open” facility in southern Israel that is currently home to some 2,500 African asylum seekers. Inmates are required to check in during morning and evening hours but are free to leave during the day. The maximum detention term in the facility as mandated by law is 20 months.

Despite UN recommendations that he be granted refugee status, Ali was ordered to report to Holot in May 2014. He disputed the order in Tel Aviv District Court, which ruled against him. In a later appeal to the Supreme Court, the justices on the tribunal avoided a direct ruling and returned his case to the district court.

African refugees sit outside the Holot detention center in southern Israel, on June 13, 2015. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
African refugees sit outside the Holot detention center in southern Israel, on June 13, 2015. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Ali’s appeals were launched with the assistance of Israeli NGO The Hotline for Refugees and Migrants.

Thus far, Israel has recognized only four Eritreans and Sudanese nationals as official asylum seekers, out of a total of 5,573 who applied for that status.

Speaking fluent Hebrew and appearing on national television to champion asylum-seeker rights in Israel, Ali said at the time of his arrest that the authorities sought to detain him because of his high visibility and leadership role in the migrant protest movement.

After hearing news of impending discharge Monday, Ali told Hebrew-language website Walla that he will continue to fight for the release of his fellow migrants. The state’s intervention on his behalf proved that his was a “just cause,” he said.

“This decision should be applied to all [those held in Holot], and I will continue to wait for the release of all those imprisoned without trial before the processing of their asylum application,” Ali said.

A Supreme Court injunction in September 2014 declared the detention of asylum seekers for an unspecified amount of time as unconstitutional and ordered the Holot facility closed by December 22 last year. The court granted the government three months to find an alternative policy before it repealed the law completely.

In light of that ruling, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, together with the Interior Ministry, made new amendments to the law in November that allowed for illegal immigrants to be detained for up to 20 months without trial — a change that, in effect, allowed Holot to remain open.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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