Israel cannot detain African migrants for up to three years without trial, High Court rules

In unanimous verdict, nine-judge panel overturns government policy, gives state 90 days to free more than 2,000 migrants being held in Negev detention center.

September 16, 2013 15:51
1 minute read.
African migrant walks with suitcase in south TA

African migrant walks with suitcase in south Tel Aviv 370 (R. (photo credit: REUTERS/Baz Ratner )


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The High Court on Monday struck down the State of Israel's entire new policy regarding African migrants, which allows the country to hold the migrants for up to three years without trial.

With an unanimous ruling, the nine-judge court panel has given the state 90 days to free the more than 2,000 migrants held in the Saharonim detention center in the Negev, and decide whether their status is that of asylum seekers or illegal immigrants to be deported.

The bombshell ruling leaves significant uncertainty as to how the state will comply both with the court's order and its stated objectives to use all legal means to minimize and "voluntarily" deport the
more than 55,000 migrants currently in Israel, most of whom are from Eritrea and Sudan.

Writing the main opinion for the court, Justice Edna Arbel said Monday that detaining the African migrants rather than making a decision about whether they should be legally deported or granted asylum, "violated their fundamental constitutional rights to human dignity [that] is the basis for Israel's values as a Jewish and democratic state."

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Arbel said that the unique dilemmas posed by the large number of non-Jewish migrants into the small Jewish state were considerable, and "fell into more of a gray area than either of the parties in the case" were ready to admit.

She said that there was a vibrant debate on to what extent the migrant population was responsible for a spike in violence and crime, but that non-migrant residents of south Tel Aviv, where many of the migrants live, clearly feel strongly that their safety has been endangered.

Furthermore, Arbel wrote, the migrants pose a huge problem to a small state from a budgetary perspective, given that they compete for certain lower-paid jobs.

The need to decide whether the migrants are official refugees under international law creates the possibility that the state may have to offer permanent residence to the migrants within the 90 days.

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