African migrants transport vegetables in south Tel Aviv 370.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Twenty-six African migrants arrived at the Holot desert detention facility on Sunday, the first date the Interior Ministry gave to migrants to report to Holot or to buses in Tel Aviv to take them there, according to the Population, Immigration and Borders Authority.
The number was far short of the 63 who had been notified they had until Sunday to report to Holot, according to PIBA.
The 63 are part of a total of some 1,900 African migrants who received notices last month ordering them to report to the facility. The date they have to report to the facility is 30 days from the last time they reported to an Interior Ministry office to renew their temporary residence status.
PIBA said it expects around 100 more migrants to make their way to Holot on Tuesday, and that similar-sized groups of migrants will be taken to Holot on a semi-daily basis in the coming weeks and months, depending on when their 30 days are up.
Up until Sunday, the 334 migrants who were jailed at Holot were ones who had already been jailed at Saharonim.
Sunday was the first date that migrants from within Israeli cities had to report to the facility.
The so-called open facility will eventually be able to hold around 3,300 detainees, who are free to leave but must report for three head counts each day and are not legally allowed to work or leave the facility overnight.
Holot is located next to Saharonim prison in a remote corner of the Negev desert near the Egyptian border.
The 21 migrants arrived at Holot on the same day that a delegation from the Knesset’s Foreign Workers Committee visited the facility.
After exiting, committee chair Michal Rozin (Meretz) said that the visit revealed that, “like we thought, the open facility gives a strong impression of a prison.”
She said that she would work to improve the conditions at the facility, and that “as long as the government’s policy is to jail asylum-seekers without trial for indefinite periods of time, it is fitting that we provide them with the suitable conditions.”
MK Ayelet Shaked (Bayit Yehudi), for her part, spoke highly of the facility, saying that “today I toured the Holot facility. It provides paid employment, courses, and more. The residents are able to present asylum requests, and those who meet the requirements will be allowed to stay in Israel.”
She also said that “today I am proud to be a citizen of Israel, which provides for all of the humanitarian needs of those residing in the facility.”
In December, the Knesset approved an amendment to the Prevention of Infiltration Law (instituted in 1954), which allows the state to hold people who entered Israel illegally for one year in the facility.
A previous version of the bill was canceled by the Supreme Court in September, which said it was disproportionate.
In December, PIBA said that with the approval of the amendment and the opening of the facility, it would begin increasing enforcement against Israelis employing illegal migrants and its efforts to detain and relocate African migrants to Holot.
On the very first weekend the facility was open, well over 100 detainees walked out and refused to return, with dozens taking part in subsequent marches to Beersheba and Jerusalem.
Protests were held in the capital, among the first actions in nationwide protests over the past month led by African migrants against Israel’s policy toward African asylum- seekers.
Those who leave the facility and fail to return for 48 hours are eligible to be jailed in Saharonim after they are caught.