Mass arrests of illegal African migrants will begin “in a matter of weeks,” a senior Interior Ministry official said on Thursday, despite an interim order the Jerusalem District Court issued earlier in the day prohibiting such a policy.

However, sidestepping the issue somewhat, mass arrests of illegal African migrants would only begin once there was room to house them in detention facilities in the South, and not beginning on October 15 as was previously reported, the official from the ministry confirmed on Thursday.

When asked if the delay had anything to do with petitions sent to the court by human rights organizations that argue that the migrants could be persecuted if sent back home to Eritrea or north Sudan, the official said, “This is not a factor at all, we have hundreds of these [petitions].

“The problem is that the [detention] facilities are not yet ready for them, so because of technical difficulties it [mass arrests/deportations] won’t begin for a matter of weeks,” the official said, seemingly unconcerned about the court order.

The official added that the desire to carry out the arrests and deportations, which Interior Minister Eli Yishai said in August would begin on October 15, was still there and was only waiting for the logistical and technical issues to be sorted out.

The court order also said that a final hearing would be held on the matter on October 30.

T`he proceeding began last week when the Association for Civil Rights in Israel and five other human rights groups filed a petition in the Jerusalem District Court on behalf of six asylum-seekers requesting an injunction to prevent Yishai from imprisoning Sudanese migrants.

Five of the Sudanese petitioners were from the Darfur region, ACRI said in a statement.

The statement referenced Yishai’s end of August announcement that all Sudanese migrants will have until October 15 to leave Israel, after which they would be arrested and detained.

ACRI alleged that in interviews with the media, the minister said these detentions would be meant to make the lives of the Sudanese migrants unbearable.

“If this policy is enacted, thousands of Sudanese asylum-seekers along with their children will be hunted down, arrested en masse, and detained indefinitely in extreme conditions in the desert. Included among these people are survivors of genocide and other atrocities in Darfur and other areas,” ACRI said.

According to the NGO, the petition argues that the detentions planned by Yishai would be arbitrary, since there was no legal or practical possibility of returning Sudanese citizens to their country; that Yishai lacks the authority to carry out his plans as such authority belongs to the defense minister; and that even if Yishai had the authority, the plan was unlawful because its purpose was discriminatory.

The ACRI statement refers to an October 2 letter supporting its efforts from the Israel representative to the UN high commissioner for refugees.

On Wednesday, Yishai visited the site where the Negev detention facility will eventually be finished, and a senior Defense Ministry official told him that the construction of the permanent facility would only be completed by the beginning of next year.

The facility will eventually be able to hold several thousand inmates, while several thousand more could be jailed in the nearby Ketziot and Saharonim prisons and in a tent encampment that the IDF has set up in the area.

Earlier this month, Yishai said in response to the petitions that human rights organizations “will be judged by Israeli history for their work against the state and in favor of changing Israel into a state of all of its citizens.”

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