Holot again

I was at Holot again yesterday, with a group of volunteers, helping asylum seekers fill out refugee status documents (RSDs). The process was demoralizing. We sat at the picnic tables with the lattice pretend-roofs, and when it started to drizzle we had no shelter for our papers. The first man I interviewed fled Eritrea because he did not want to serve indefinitely in the army. “If it were for three years, four years, I would do it,” he said. “In Eritrea, it’s until you are forty or fifty, we don’t know when it ends.” I asked him what would happen if he went back to Eritrea. He said they would put him in jail. Would there be a trial? No. Would they beat him? Of course. Would they feed him? Yes, just enough to keep him alive, maybe a piece of pita twice a day. At the end, I shook his hand and wished him good luck. Many countries consider this indefinite service grounds for asylum, Israel does not.  His application will be rejected. The second man I interviewed was from Darfur. I asked him if he would go home. He said his village was completely destroyed by the Janjaweed. Some of his family is in displaced person camps in Sudan. He has a brother in Australia, and another brother in Belgium, both of whom have recognized status as refugees. I write this all down. Jamal, a middle-aged inmate/asylum seeker who dutifully translates for us, was sitting there bored, but now he interrupted me for the first time. “And what do you think of that,” he asked me, “that his brothers have asylum and he doesn’t?” “What is different between him and his brothers, that he is in prison here in Israel?” “Nothing,” I said.