ACRI asks High Court to put state in contempt over migrants

Nine migrants have been released so far and many other migrants' cases are under review according to AG letter.

October 28, 2013 21:28
2 minute read.
South Tel Aviv rally calling for more cooperation between Israelis, African migrants, Oct 13, 2013.

Pro-African migrants rally in south TA 370. (photo credit: Ben Hartman)


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The Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), the Hotline for Migrant Workers and an assortment of other NGOs on Monday filed a motion for contempt of court with the High Court of Justice, seeking an injunction that would force the state to implement the court’s decision to overturn the “Anti- Infiltration Law” and release the detained African migrants immediately.

The motion complained that after 42 days out of the 90 days given as a final deadline for releasing or establishing the status of the migrants, the state has only released around a dozen migrants among the approximately 1,800 being held in the Saharonim detention center in the South.

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A motion for contempt is a legal tool for forcing a party to comply with a prior court order and which can even include the imposing of sanctions on the party for having failed to cooperate.

The motion for contempt comes exactly one week after Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein released an open letter response to complaints by the human rights groups that the state had been dragging its feet on complying with the court’s decision.

The September 16 landmark decision demolished and declared unconstitutional the state’s policy of discouraging migrants from illegally entering and staying in Israel by placing them in special detention centers at Saharonim for up to three years, pending a review of whether or not they had a right to remain here.

The decision, which threw the politics of the issue into complete disarray, also ordered the state to review each migrant’s status regarding the right to remain in Israel within 90 days or to release them without delay.

Weinstein’s letter indicated that nine migrants had been released and that many other migrants’ cases were under review.

Weinstein also made indirect reference to ongoing efforts to pass new legislation on the issue, potentially putting a similar policy back in place but shortening the maximum detention time to one-and-a-half years.

Most important, Weinstein referenced one of the High Court’s suggested solutions to the issue. The court had mentioned that other countries wanting to discourage unlimited illegal border crossings of migrants – in compliance with international law – have established “open” areas where the migrants must reside but agreed to various hours during which the migrants could come and go from those residences.

Weinstein said that if such “open” detention centers were ready by the end of the 90-day period and if, logistically, the state was unable to complete its review of all of the migrants’ cases in time, they could be placed in open detention-residences.

Responding to Weinstein’s suggestion, ACRI lawyer Oded Feller said that the state’s approach was twisting the court’s decision.

According to Feller, the court’s order was to release the migrants “without delay,” meaning that large numbers of migrants should have already been released in the early days and weeks.

Certainly the fact that only around a dozen had been released after 42 days shows that the state had been using the end of the 90-day period as a first date for it to address the issue generally, as opposed to a “drop-dead” date for a few remaining cases which might not yet be addressed, Feller added.

He also said that where the court had mentioned open detention centers as a possible solution, it was in reference to potential new legislation that the state could seek to employ in the future, not an excuse for avoiding its completely separate order to release the migrants.

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