150 imprisoned African asylum seekers start hunger strike

African Asylum seekers take part in a protest march on the highway from Beer Sheva in southern Israel on their way to Jerusalem on December 16, 2013, after they fled a detention center in the south where they were being held. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)
African Asylum seekers take part in a protest march on the highway from Beer Sheva in southern Israel on their way to Jerusalem on December 16, 2013, after they fled a detention center in the south where they were being held. (Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Some 150 Sudanese asylum seekers jailed in the Saharonim prison began an open-ended hunger strike on Sunday. The prisoners, all of whom took part in the March For Freedom last month and were taken back to the facility, announced they would continue to strike until their release. Since Sunday, prison authorities have isolated the hunger strikers, and today four of the leaders were transferred from Saharonim prison to a Be’er Sheva jail. This following is the letter they wrote to the Israeli public.

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Hunger strike for freedom and human rights

To the Israeli people, human rights organizations and the press:

This is a call to all the people who believe in humanity.

We are calling for the recognition of our rights as refugees.

We are calling to put a stop to the Sudanese refugees suffering inside Israeli prisons.

We are Sudanese refugees imprisoned in Israeli prisons. We have escaped from our homeland since our lives are in danger under the terror of the Sudanese government, and since we have suffered from the scourge of war that is still raging on in Darfur, the Nuba Mountains and the Blue Nile.

All the world knows the scale of the humanitarian disaster that has happened in Sudan: killing, rape, genocide, ethnic cleansing, looting and the systematic targeting of the black African ethnicities by the Sudanese government. The persecution, torture and murder by the Sudanese security forces of political activists and the opposition groups that belong to the black African ethnicities.

We are Sudanese refugees, we escaped to the Israeli state because we had great faith that the democratic state of Israel, that respects human rights, can protect and accept us as refugees until the reasons from which we escaped are resolved.

We are Sudanese refugees. We escaped to the Israeli state to ask for protection but the Israeli government didn’t accept us as refugees. Instead, they put us in prison since June 2012 until today, 05.01.2014.

Only nine months after we were imprisoned we were finally allowed to apply for asylum, but up until today we have not received an answer or a decision in our requests for political asylum. The supreme High Court decided to release all the prisoners from ‘Saharonim’ and ‘Ketsiot’ prison on the 16.09.2013, but the government didn’t respect the court’s decision to release us and instead they sent us to ‘Holot’ prison on Friday the 13.12.2013, calling us infiltrators and not refugees.

On Sunday the 15.12.2013 we left walking from ‘Holot’ prison to Beer Sheva and from there to Jerusalem to protest against the government’s decision to prevent our release. During the protest in front of the parliament we were violently arrested in front of all the media and human rights organizations. Once again, we were returned to the ‘Saharonim’ prison.

We are Sudanese refugees imprisoned in’ Saharonim’ prison; we are on hunger strike because until today we have not received the government’s answer about our asylum requests. We will continue the hunger strike until our requests will be fulfilled, or we will die from hunger. There is no point in life without human freedom.

Either we live as humans with all our basic rights or we don’t live at all.

We request:

1. Release us into Israel and deal with us as refugees according to international law and the Geneva refugee convention.

2. If the Israeli government can’t protect us and deal with us as humans and refugees in Israel, they should pass us to international human rights organizations for refugees to find for us a state that can protect us and deal with us as refugees. We cannot go back to our countries in this time and we can’t spend our lives as displaced refugees in prison.

The Sudanese refugees, ‘Saharonim’ prison 05.01.2014

African asylum seekers gather outside the central bus station in the city of Be’er Sheva, after marching from the new detention center ‘Holot’, close to the Israeli-Egyptian border, protesting the Israeli government’s decision to jail them in a new facility, December 15, 2013. (Yotam Ronen/Activestills.org)
African asylum seekers gather outside the central bus station in the city of Be’er Sheva, after marching from the new detention center ‘Holot’, close to the Israeli-Egyptian border, protesting the Israeli government’s decision to jail them in a new facility, December 15, 2013. (Yotam Ronen/Activestills.org)