African migrants walk in front of the entrance to Holot open detention center in the Negev .
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Following an NGO petition on Thursday to the High Court of Justice to strike down the state’s recently enacted third shot at an African migrant policy, the same court immediately froze the policy pending a decision on its constitutionality.
The court had told the state in September it must close the Holot open detention center within 90 days and froze aspects of the limits on the movement of illegal migrants under the old policy.
The latest policy shortened the maximum amount of time migrants can be detained in each facility and changed some aspects of their detention conditions.
It allows for migrants to be held in the Holot open detention center for a maximum of 20 months, as opposed to the previous version in which they could be detained indefinitely.
At the closed Saharonim detention center, it allows for migrants to be held for a maximum of three months as opposed to a year in the previous version.
In addition, whereas detainees were ordered to sign in three times a day at Holot, the present draft calls on them to sign in just once a day.
While that change somewhat frees-up migrants’ movement, there are still elaborate prohibitions and sanctions designed to prevent migrants from finding employment.
The policy appears to be an attempt to find a middle ground between what the High Court seemed to suggest and what recently resigned interior minister Gideon Sa’ar sought.
The High Court appeared to suggest a policy based more on integrating migrants than on extended detention periods to deter them from staying in the country. Sa’ar had said he wanted a two-year detention period in Holot and around eight months in Saharonim.
The former interior minister and many other politicians said the court’s September ruling undermined a policy that had been effective in dealing with the illegal migrant population, which had dropped to 48,212 as of June 30 – around 10,000 fewer than it was at its height a few years ago.
The Hotline for Refugees and Migrants, who filed the petition, had slammed the changes, saying it was too bad that the government was once again ignoring the High Court’s directive to get rid of detention as a primary aspect and tool of the law.
In the court’s September majority opinion by Justice Uzi Vogelman, he said that in the crucial debate over whether the migrants are here for economic reasons or to escape persecution the court could not ignore that the state was not forcing migrants to go back.
There is at least a serious concern of persecution for Eritreans and the Sudanese are not being sent back because of the lack of diplomatic relations with Sudan, he said.
When it was recently initially leaked, the policy failed to appease the Israeli Immigration Policy Center, which stated that the maximum 20-month sentence at Holot would not fulfill the purpose of the law of “deterring new infiltrators and causing the independent exit of infiltrators already in Israel.”