The Holot Detention Facility in the Negev..
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Authorities on Tuesday began the release of 1,200 African migrants from detention centers in the South, two weeks after the High Court of Justice invalidated the state’s 20-month detention period for migrants as unconstitutional for being disproportionately long.
The court also partially rejected the petition against the law, ruling that jailing migrants at the Holot detention facility in the Negev in and of itself could be constitutional if the maximum detention period was shorter, with a hint that 12 months might pass muster.
According to reports, the Holot detention center in the Negev started releasing some 600 African migrants on Tuesday, and a similar number are slated to leave detention facilities on Wednesday.
Following the discharge process – which involves providing released migrants with supplies, financial compensation and documentation, and medical certificates for those who need – authorities will provide the asylum-seekers with a release letter, a sandwich and a soft drink.
On Sunday, Interior Minister Silvan Shalom banned the 1,200 African migrants who will be released from the Holot open (persons held there are free to leave during the day) facility and the Saharonim prison from working and living in Tel Aviv or Eilat. They are allowed to work elsewhere.
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 Interior Ministry’s Population, Immigration, and Borders Authority, said in response to the reports, but confirmed that it applies only to the two cities where there are many illegal migrants.
She was not able to provide details about what the punishment will be for those caught violating the restriction.
Spokeswoman Anat Ovadia for the Hotline for Refugees and Migrants said the release and the idea of dispersing them could have been a major positive move by the state, but that it became negative since there was no plan for what will happen to the migrants.
She said that the state had made a similar move when the High Court struck down a previous version of the law and ordered the release of 1,800 detained migrants in September 2013, but had learned nothing in terms of investing in integrating the migrants.
Asked where most of the migrants would go in light of the restriction against living in Tel Aviv and Eilat, Ovadia said many still did not know where they would end up.
She said there were some lucky ones who formerly worked in hotels in Eilat where the hotel chain was assisting them get jobs within the chain in new areas such as at the Dead Sea or in Jerusalem, but added most were not so fortunate.
Most would take a bus from the detention centers to Beersheba and then try to figure out where they could find jobs, Ovadia said.
She said she was not aware of a wave of migrants intending to come to Arad, even if some might, and that reports of one were probably merely based on Arad’s proximity to Beersheba.
Further, Ovadia said many would return to Tel Aviv and ignore the restrictions at least temporarily, especially since, paradoxically, the only medical care center they can officially receive care from and other special infrastructure are in Tel Aviv.
Speaking to a few migrants being released between Tuesday and Thursday, they gave similar indications.
Anwar Solomon, from Darfur in Sudan, said that while he was “very happy after more than one year and eight months to be free,” and to have “our respect returned,” he was upset that the “state did not take responsibility” for the migrants.
“How will we find a place to work... Prohibiting us from living in Tel Aviv and Eilat,” where many migrants formerly had jobs, “is a problem.”
Solomon said he would have a place to stay until he found work because he had friends, but that not all migrants were as lucky and some could become homeless.
The overwhelming majority of the approximately 50,000 African migrants in Israel live in Tel Aviv, and a disproportionately large concentration have for years lived in Eilat, due to the availability of jobs in the hospitality industry and because of its proximity to the Egypt border, where they entered Israel. 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 or an absence of diplomatic relations with Israel.
Ben Hartman and Jerusalem Post staff contributed to this report.