State announces new migrant policy: Detention in Holot for maximum of 20 months

After High Court shot down previous versions of migrant detention policy, state shortens maximum holding time for migrants.

AFRICAN MIGRANTS sit on pipes outside Holot, a detention centre in Israel’s southern Negev desert. (photo credit: REUTERS)
AFRICAN MIGRANTS sit on pipes outside Holot, a detention centre in Israel’s southern Negev desert.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The Population Immigration and Border Authority announced its new migrant detention policy on Wednesday after the High Court of Justice struck down as unconstitutional the state’s two previous versions of the bill.
The court told the state in September it must close the Holot open detention center within 90 days and froze aspects of the limits on the movement of illegal migrants.
It also struck down the constitutionality of holding newly arrived illegal migrants in the closed Saharonim detention center for one year.
Wednesday’s version seeks to amend the policy by shortening the maximum amount of time migrants can be detained in each facility and changing some aspects of their detention conditions.
The policy allows for migrants to be held in the Holot open detention center for a maximum of 20 months, as opposed to the previous version in which they could be detained indefinitely.
At the closed Saharonim detention center, it allows for migrants to be held for a maximum of three months as opposed to a year in the previous version.
In addition, whereas detainees were ordered to sign in three times a day at Holot, the new draft calls on them to sign in just once a day.
While that change somewhat frees-up migrants’ movement, there are still elaborate prohibitions and sanctions designed to prevent migrants from finding employment.
The policy appears to be somewhat of a middle ground between what the High Court seemed to suggest and what recently resigned interior minister Gideon Sa’ar was seeking.
The High Court appeared to strongly suggest a policy based more on integrating migrants than on extended detention periods to deter them from staying in the country.
Sa’ar had said he wanted a two-year detention period in Holot and around eight months in Saharonim.
The former interior minister and many other politicians said the court’s ruling undermined a policy that had been effective in dealing with the illegal migrant population, which had dropped to 48,212 as of June 30 – around 10,000 fewer than it was at its height a few years ago.
Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein appeared to seek a middle path, though it is unclear if even this third policy will pass the High Court’s scrutiny.
The Hotline for Refugees and Migrants rejected the changes, saying it was too bad that the government once again was ignoring the High Court’s directive to get rid of detention as a primary aspect and tool for the law.
The nongovernmental organization emphasized that the funds the state was putting into detention centers could have been used, and would have been better spent, on integrating the migrants into society.
There is a strong chance that if it goes into law – in its absence, all migrants would need to be freed around December 22 – the NGO will ask the High Court to strike it down again.
In the court’s majority opinion by Justice Uzi Vogelman, he said that in the crucial debate over whether the migrants are here for economic reasons or to escape persecution the court could not ignore that the state was not forcing migrants to go back.
There is at least a serious concern of persecution for Eritreans and the Sudanese are not being sent back because of the lack of diplomatic relations with Sudan, he said.
With nowhere to send most of the migrants, the state needs to figure out a more humane way of dealing with their presence in the country besides throwing them in detention, whether it be open or closed, Vogelman said.
The justice focused on Israel’s international law obligations under conventions relating to refugees and found that its rate of granting refugee status is far lower than most of the world.
The new policy failed to appease the Israeli Immigration Policy Center, which stated that the maximum 20-month sentence at Holot would not fulfill the purpose of the law of “deterring new infiltrators and causing the independent exit of infiltrators already in Israel.”
The Center said the policy represented the state “giving up,” and accepting the fact that illegal infiltrators would continue to stay in Israel, particularly in south Tel Aviv.
The spike in illegal migrants from Africa started about nine years ago and at one point the numbers reached as high as 60,000.