Cabinet approves bill allowing detention of illegal migrants for one year

Amendment follows court decision to strike down previous bill; new bill also provides for construction of detention center.

November 17, 2013 14:22
2 minute read.
African migrants stand on their balconies at an apartment block in south Tel Aviv.

African migrants stand on their balconies 370. (photo credit: REUTERS)

The cabinet on Sunday approved an amendment to the bill dealing with infiltrators mandating that the state can detain illegal migrants for up to a year.

This amendment is in response to a High Court of Justice decision from mid-September that ruled the state could no longer detain migrants for three years without addressing their refugee status. The amendment was voted for by 12 ministers, and only Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and Environmental Protection Minister Amir Peretz, both of Hatnua, against the measure.

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The bill provides for the construction of an “open” detention center that will only be locked at night.

The bill requires migrants in the detention center to register three times per day and bars them from seeking outside employment.

As the planned location of the center is in the desert, it is unclear exactly to what extent the migrants will be able to leave the area.

Interior Minister Gideon Sa’ar said that the country needed new tools to deal with the phenomenon of illegal migration.

Sa’ar, citing Australia’s strict sea policy to prevent illegal migration, said that what was right for Australia, which is surrounded by an ocean, “is certainly right for Israel which is the only western country that has a land border with Africa.”

Sa’ar said that Israel will demonstrate determination in securing its future.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said during the debate on the bill that in the last three months, as a result of the fence, that was built along the Egyptian border, not a single infiltrator has penetrated the border.

A group of pro-migrant human rights groups including the Migrants Hotline, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel and others, responded saying, “the Israeli government is throwing sand in the eyes of public.” It tries to convince it that continuing to “detain a thousand asylum seekers which the court has already ordered freed will provide a solution” to the tensions and problems between migrants and other locals of south Tel Aviv.

The groups called the amendment worse than the old law as they said it would allow the government to indefinitely detain migrants in the open detention centers, whereas when there were only closed detention centers, there was a three year limit.

The groups have criticized the government for not immediately releasing large numbers of the approximately 1,700 migrants from the Saharonim detention facility, releasing only around 300 to date despite the High Court’s order that all of the migrants be released or have their refugee status determined by mid-December.

Yonatan Jakubowicz, director of PR at the pro-local south Tel Aviv residents Israeli Immigration Policy Center said, “Open living centers for illegal migrants can be a viable substitute to closed detention centers only if complemented with a strict prohibition on their ability to work, reducing the economic incentive to both migrate and stay in Israel.”

He continued, “We expect the government to implement this new law on a substantial scale, both upon illegal migrants currently in detention and upon those who are already inside Israel. This will bring genuine relief to the residents of south Tel Aviv, while attending to the basic needs of the migrants.”

The bill is expected to be brought to the Knesset this week.

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