Israel has begun implementing the “Infiltrators Law,” meaning that from this point on people caught illegally entering Israel may be jailed for up to three years, the Population, Immigration and Borders Authority said on Sunday.
PIBA spokeswoman Sabine Haddad said the decision was already reached between PIBA and the Defense Ministry over a week ago, and they are just waiting for the ministry to alter the warrants given out by IDF soldiers when they arrest illegal migrants. As of today, the arrest warrants are good for 10 days and PIBA is waiting for the army to make them valid for up to three years, Haddad said.
“Hopefully it will send a message that people shouldn’t come [to Israel],” Haddad said.
The Defense Ministry said Sunday that in its view, the law went into effect Sunday morning.
According to PIBA statistics, some 2,031 illegal migrants crossed Israel’s southern border with Egypt in May, with a total of 8,634 such migrants arriving since the beginning of the year.
In March, the Prisons Service suddenly released 600 prisoners, a move it said was carried out to ease prison crowding.
On Sunday, a Prisons Service spokeswoman told The Jerusalem Post that it is prepared to take in the arrested migrants in its detention facilities. She would not comment on exactly how many available spaces there are in Israel’s prisons, but said the amount is in the thousands.
Passed by the Knesset in January, the so-called “Infiltrators Law” allows Israel to jail illegal migrants for up to three years without trial or deportation. It also allows Israel to punish those assisting illegal migrants with prison sentences of between five and 15 years. The law was an amendment of the 1954 Prevention of Infiltration Law, which was designed to stop the illegal entry of Palestinians into Israel.
When it goes into effect, the law should put an end to the current practice in Israel in which new migrants are arrested and held for 10 days at Saharonim Prison in the South, where they are processed before being taken on a one-way trip to south Tel Aviv. Others who are released make their way to Eilat or Arad.
The decision to implement the law comes as the African migrant issue has exploded in south Tel Aviv, where violence has broken out over the continued influx of African migrants to area neighborhoods.
On Sunday, the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee toured Route 12 along the Egyptian border, to evaluate the progress of construction of a border fence created to keep migrants and terrorists from entering Israel from the Sinai Peninsula.
The committee also visited the Saharonim facility, and was briefed by OC Southern Command Maj.-Gen. Tal Russo.
MK Arieh Eldad (National Union) commented, “As long as the IDF does not receive new instructions to shoot whoever goes near the fence, infiltrators will continue to enter Israel.”
Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee chairman Ronnie Bar-On (Kadima) said that the pace of the border fence’s construction is impressive, and that it appears that it will be completed quickly.
“The cost of building the fence is NIS 2 billion, but in the end, we must all be patient until the construction is complete, so the number of migrants will significantly decrease,” Bar-On said.
At the same time, MK Amir Peretz (Labor) said threats from Sinai are growing, and there is a security problem combined with the social issue of illegal migration.
MK Ophir Akunis (Likud) suggested that a fence be built on the Jordanian border at least up to the Dead Sea.
Also Sunday, Interior Minister Eli Yishai (Shas) met with Eritrean Ambassador Tesfamariam Tekeste, and instructed him to send a message to his countrymen: They should no longer look at Israel as a destination and that future “infiltrators” will find themselves imprisoned for long periods of time upon arrival in Israel.
The two men also spoke about ways to work together to return Eritreans in Israel to their country, which is currently in the throes of a dictatorship ruled by President Isaias Afewerki.
Eritreans make up the majority of the more than 60,000 illegal African migrants in Israel.