Supporters of migrant community take state to court

Assistance Center for Foreign Workers petition for visiting rights, access to migrants in Saharonim detention centers.

February 27, 2013 02:32
3 minute read.
A VOLUNTEER hands out food to African migrants

A VOLUNTEER hands out food to African migrants 370. (photo credit: REUTERS)

The state and the Assistance Center for Foreign Workers faced off on Tuesday before the High Court of Justice over the scope of the groups’ visiting rights and access to migrants in the Saharonim detention centers in the South.

The petitioners originally filed their petition when the state was “prohibiting completely” access to the detained migrants.

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The petitioners say that they provide information to the migrants regarding their rights and often, where migrants seek their representation, advocacy on their behalf regarding their detention or other more specific issues.

The petitioners told the court that the situation has evolved and that, at least in a formal sense, they are not being prevented from meeting with the detained migrants.

However, the petitioners complained that they are only allowed three rooms in which to meet with 1,700 detained migrants.

The petitioners said the lack of space for meeting with the migrants would mean that it would currently take six months to get to meet with each of the migrants at least once, without even factoring in possible needed multiple meetings, essentially negating the migrants’ right to any prompt or effective representation.

The migrants in Saharonim, mostly of African descent, are generally detained their after entering Israel illegally, but no having committed any other crime.

The detention centers there are relatively new and are considered a controversial outgrowth of the state’s response to a wave of over 60,000 African migrants illegally arriving in Israel in recent years.

Supreme Court President Asher D. Grunis pressed the petitioners to propose or agree to a specific solution or compromise.

Whenever the petitioners tried to make larger arguments about injustices toward the migrants, he repeatedly asked, “what is really bothering you?” Grunis said that the detention center could not permit unlimited access to every group that wanted access to the migrants, especially if there was a danger that groups would come in to take advantage of the migrants for their own agendas.

Trying to get the petitioners to see what he appeared to see as problems with giving them unlimited access to the migrants, he asked the petitioners if they would oppose anti-migrant groups from “visiting to try to convince the migrants to leave.”

The petitioners responded that they do not try to convince the migrants of anything in particular. Rather, that they mainly conceive of themselves as information providers, and that if anti-migrant groups limited themselves to “providing information” to migrants, they would not oppose them having access.

Next, the petitioners said that they have two reasons for special access to the migrants. One was because many migrants have appointed them as their counsel, making access crucial to fulfilling the migrants’ access to their counsel.

A second reason was that the petitioners said they have had such access in all detention facilities since 1998.

The court recognized the first argument as giving the petitioners some special status, but rejected the second argument as an example of cooperation which detention centers may have given in the past without any obligation or requirement.

This meant that the detention centers could withdraw such cooperation at will at any time.

By the end of the hearing, the court appeared to be pressing the state to providing more space to the petitioners so that they could meet with a larger number of migrants in a shorter period of time, while trying to get the migrants to step away from their opening request to have essentially unlimited access to the migrants.

No immediate decision was made.

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