African migrants to be released from Israeli detention centers face ban on Tel Aviv residency

Scope of restriction and punishment for violations remains unclear, says PIBA spokeswoman.

August 23, 2015 20:29
3 minute read.
The Holot Detention Facility in the Negev.

The Holot Detention Facility in the Negev.. (photo credit: REUTERS)

The 1,200 African migrants who will be released from detention centers in the South this week will be banned from working and living in Tel Aviv in keeping with a decision made by Interior Minister Silvan Shalom, according to press reports Sunday.

The scope of the restriction and whether it will apply to all hours of the day or just overnight was unclear, Sabine Haddad, spokeswoman for the Population, Immigration, and Borders authority (PIBA), said in response to the reports, but confirmed that it applies only to Tel Aviv and Eilat.

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She was not able to provide details about what the punishment will be for those caught violating the restriction.

The overwhelming majority of the approximately 50,000 African migrants in Israel live in Tel Aviv, and a disproportionately large concentration for years have lived in Eilat, due to the availability of jobs in the hospitality industry and because of its proximity to the Egypt border, from where they entered Israel.

The migrants will be released from Holot detention center and Saharonim prison in the South on Tuesday and Wednesday.

The release follows a High Court decision earlier this month that rejected a petition against the “anti-infiltration law” submitted by a collection of Israel NGOs, saying that jailing migrants at the Holot “open facility” is constitutional but that holding them for as long as 20 months is disproportionately severe.

It also ruled that within the next six months the Knesset must issue amendments to the law and that, for now, the length of detention at Holot must be limited to 12 months. As a result, those already in the facility for a year or more must be released by within 15 days of the ruing.

The petition was filed on December 18, 2014, and was issued after the High Court struck down two amendments to the Prevention of Infiltration Law in the past few years.

The latest version, passed in December 2014, ruled that the maximum time African migrants can be held at the Saharonim detention facility is three months, and the maximum at Holot is 20 months. This was significantly less severe than a previous version of the law that allowed the state to keep illegal migrants in Saharonim for up to a year and Holot where they could potentially be kept indefinitely.

The anti-infiltration laws were part of a series of deterrent measures enacted by the state in an attempt to stem the influx of African migrants to Israel. This includes increased enforcement against those employing them and restricting their ability to send money back to their home countries.

Most of Israel’s illegal African migrants are from Eritrea or Sudan, and cannot be deported due to fear that they could face persecution if returned.

PIBA in March said there were around 42,000 illegal African migrants in Israel, but the actual number is widely believed to be much higher. At full capacity, the Holot center can house about 3,000 detainees.

PIBA said on Friday that since the start of 2015, 1,646 migrants had agreed to leave Israel, either to their home country or a third country, and had been provided with airfare and a one-time cash stipend from the state, and that in the past few months, 57 have been caught after entering Israel through the Sinai border and have all been jailed. They said this included some who had previously taken the $3,500 stipend from the state and left Israel, only to return looking for work.

In 2014, 6,414 returned, and in 2013, the number was 2,612.

The issue of “willful return” is a controversial one, in that those who willfully leave the country do so knowing that their only other option is to stay in Israel, where they face imprisonment.

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