AFRICAN MIGRANTS sit on pipes outside Holot, a detention centre in Israel’s southern Negev desert..
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The Knesset on Monday night voted 20 to 12 in favor of a new amendment to a so-called anti-infiltration law, which would limit detention terms for African migrants at the Negev’s “Holot” detention center to a maximum of 12 months.
The measure would have to pass three more votes including in committee and two additional readings in the Knesset before becoming law.
The cabinet last week unanimously approved the amendment, which follows a Supreme Court ruling in August that upheld the authority to detain migrants but found that the 20 month maximum was disproportionate.
The court had called for the Knesset to revise the legislation within 6 months, and temporarily limited the length of detention to 12 months.
MK Michal Rozin (Meretz) said the bill “lacks vision and doesn’t provide any real answers to the plight of the residents of South Tel Aviv and asylum seekers.”
Meretz party head Zehava Gal-On called on the government to close Holot and denounced the anti-infiltration law as “a humanitarian crime and moral disgrace”.
MK David Bitton (Likud) said there was no place for “self-righteousness” and that “the time has come to deal with this problem and we must solve the problems of the residents of south Tel Aviv.”
Interior Minister Arye Deri (Shas) said Monday that he expects the amendment to pass a final reading and become law in the coming days.
The High Court has repeatedly struck down the legislation aimed at stemming an influx of Africans in the past few years, largely due to the court’s objections to the length of their incarceration.
The government says the migrants are illegal though many have received temporary permits after stealing across the border, usually from Egypt.
During the cabinet meeting last Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that in recent years Israel has repatriated some 22,000 migrants entering Israel illegally, either through cash incentives, restricting the amount of money they can send home, making it difficult or illegal for them to work, and jailing many in Holot.
As of last march the number of African migrants was listed by the Population, Immigration, and Borders Authority as around 42,000, most of them coming from Sudan and Eritrea, two nations cited by international organizations for human rights violations.
Tens of thousands have made south Tel Aviv their home in recent years, where there often tension between them and veteran Israeli residents of these neighborhoods.
On Monday, Netanyahu said amendment’s intent is to strengthen Israel’s ability to stop “illegal infiltration.”
He said Israel “is one of the only countries in the western world, possibly the only one that managed to stop this illegal infiltration.”
Netanyahu credited construction of a border fence with Egypt, completed in 2012, and legislation directed against the migrants for quelling the influx.