An African migrant holds an Israeli flag after being released from the Holot detention center in the Negev.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
• By YONAH JEREMY BOB The Hotline for Refugees and Migrants and a group of pro-migrant NGOs on Sunday appealed to the Supreme Court to strike down the state’s policy to imprison migrants denied refugee status indefinitely if they refuse self-deportation to an unnamed third country.
On November 9, the Beersheba District Court rejected the same request, leading to the migrant groups’ appeal.
The organizations claim that the district court improperly ignored the evidence they brought of mistreatment of migrants who agreed to being deported to the third country, and made a range of other errors.
The legal debate over how to handle the issue of around 45,000 African migrants who crossed into the country illegally but claim refugee status, is currently somewhat up in the air.
In August, the Supreme Court invalidated the state’s 20-month detention period for migrants as unconstitutional due to its disproportionate length.
However, the Supreme Court also rejected a major aspect of the petition against the law, ruling that jailing migrants at the Holot detention facility in the Negev could be constitutional if the maximum detention period was shorter, hinting that 12 months might pass muster.
The Supreme Court also essentially validated the state’s goals of trying to deter future African migrants and shrink their current population size via detention and pressure to self-deport.
This paved the way for Beersheba District Court Judge Rachel Lavi-Barkai to uphold the part of the state’s policy that depended on giving certain migrants the choice to self-deport or be indefinitely detained.
The state’s interpretation of the High Court’s ruling, now affirmed by the district court, is that 20 months is only too long for migrants whose refugee status requests are pending.
However, the district court accepted the state’s reasoning that if a migrant’s request for refugee status is rejected, the need to limit detention to a period shorter than 20 months does not apply. The state remains undecided as to the exact number of months appropriate.
Around 33,000 of the 45,000 migrants are Eritrean, and the state has recently taken the position that most Eritreans in Israel are not refugees. As such, the Beersheba District Court decision could have immense significance, if it is not overturned by the Supreme Court, which will now have to clarify its opinion on the issue.