Prison guards act to halt Eritrean hunger strikes

By Nathan Jeffay, July 4, 2013
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The Israeli prison service has subdued a growing protest movement that had been taking root among African asylum seekers under its detention.

More than 300 Eritreans who illegally crossed into Israel over its southern border had been on hunger strike at the Saharonim detention facility in southern Israel.

They were protesting against an Israeli law that allows them to be detained without trial, and also to express disapproval at efforts by the government to find an African country — other than Eritrea — which will accept them as deportees from Israel.

The prison service separated the prisoners from each other in order to break their will to carry on the hunger strike. “We moved them from the places where they were,” confirmed spokeswoman Sivan Weizman.

Sigal Rozen, of the Hotline for Migrant Workers, a group that lobbies on behalf of asylum seekers, criticised the prison service’s approach, saying it had “spread panic” and “further harmed the mental state” of already-vulnerable detainees.

The end of the strike came as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reiterated his determination to see the asylum seekers leave Israel. He also highlighted the success of a new fence built along the Egyptian border to keep refugees out.

Only 34 Africans — all of whom were detained — entered Israel in the first half of 2013, as opposed to 9,570 in the first half of 2012. “This is the result of the comprehensive work that is being done to deal with infiltration,” said Mr Netanyahu.

Last updated: 1:45pm, July 4 2013