New Israeli infiltration law enshrines detention without time limit

Grace was 15-years-old when she travelled from South Sudan to Israel with her mother and sister. They were immediately put in detention. After two weeks, a judge in the prison talked to Grace and her mother. Grace could not stay with people who were older than her, the judge said.
“He told me that I was going to boarding school. And my mum thought about it and she says it’s a good idea because I wanted to study, so she say, if it’s a boarding school, I can go,” Grace says.
Mother and daughter told the judge “OK”. Despite her mother’s approval of the new opportunity, Grace found it hard to leave her family for the first time.
“We were always together, wherever we go, we are together,” Grace says.
Grace was brought to the city of Hadera, 120 kilometres north of Jerusalem. What she found waiting for her was a prison, not a school.
“There was a prison there.  I didn’t expect it to be a prison at all.  I’ve arrived there and the first day when we got there, I got out of the car… I see there’s a lot of police everywhere and the place is closed,” Grace says.
Naturally confused, Grace did not say anything about her unexpected residence for a few days. But she cannot stay silent for long.
“So I asked the police, like, what am I doing here?  The judge told me I was going to a boarding school but this is – it doesn’t look like a boarding school at all,” Grace says.
“And then he say, yes, right, this is not a boarding school, this is a prison for (those) under age,” Grace says.
She is told this is where she is supposed to be.
“I lived there for eleven months.”
In that time she does not speak once to her mother, who is left to think her daughter is studying.
Children need freedom. They need education. They don’t need to be held in prisons and kept apart from their parents.   Detention has a devastating effect on the physical, emotional and psychological development of children and must be stopped.

The detention of children in Israel – a snapshot

According to Israeli law, refugees, asylum seekers and other migrants who enter Israel via the Egyptian border, including children, are automatically detained at Saharonim Prison near the Israel-Egypt border.  Under the recently amended Law to Prevent Infiltration, the government will release unaccompanied minors from detention; however, children arriving with their parents can be kept in prison for three or more years. According to this Law, migrants and their children that originate from countries considered by the government to be “hostile” to Israel, including those from Sudan, would face detention without time limitsThis new Law is coupled with the current construction of a new detention facility that will increase detention capacity for migrants to over 12,400 places.
In Saharonim Prison, families are separated, with women and children in one compound, men in another.  Conditions are poor and overcrowded, with no proper schooling available for children, who can be detained for months.
Since August 2010, unaccompanied minors have been sent to a separate detention facility run by the prison authorities, called ‘Matan Prison’.  As of September 2011, 169 minors had been detained in this centre, with reports of up to 19 suicide attempts during this time.
Unaccompanied minors below the age of 16 are referred to boarding schools, often after a period of time in detention. Those over the age of 16 must find a family to take them in and be responsible for them, a difficult task that can prolong detention for months.
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