Authorities see big rise in African ‘infiltrators'

Human rights organizations criticize as "Draconian and immoral," Israeli plans to build large detention center for asylum seekers.

Egypt border 311 (photo credit: Asmaa Waguih/Reuters)
Egypt border 311
(photo credit: Asmaa Waguih/Reuters)
Around 950 African migrants have illegally entered Israel since the beginning of November, including some 620 this past weekend, the Population, Immigration and Borders Authority announced this week.
PIBA said the figures highlight the need for the government “to hold an urgent hearing on this matter, in order to find immediate solutions to stop this phenomenon.”
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PIBA also said that the number of migrants illegally entering the country across its southern border with Egypt has increased significantly in recent months, and that until Israel finishes construction of a detention facility for illegal migrants in the south, the country will have no way of dealing with the issue.
In February, PIBA released a report stating that in Israel there were some 33,273 “illegal infiltrators” as of December 23, 2010. This sum included 19,442 from Eritrea, 8,256 from Sudan and 5,575 from elsewhere in Africa.
The number has climbed since then, and in some cities in the south, in particular Eilat, African migrants represent a very high percentage of the local population.
Despite the PIBA announcement, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees representative in Israel William Tall told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday that his organization had not witnessed any noticeable increase in the number of refugees they had dealt with in recent months.
“We interview people once they arrive in Israel and we don‘t see any dramatic rise.
The numbers tend to go up and down. There may have been an increase lately; that wouldn’t be unusual because at times it goes lower, as well.”
Tall’s statement was echoed by Ran Cohen of Physicians for Human Rights-Israel, which operates a Jaffa clinic that treats migrants free of charge.
Standing in the office on Tuesday, Cohen said so far this month they have seen nothing out of the ordinary, and they have treated on average 60-70 migrants per day, in keeping with the average in recent months.
With respect to the PIBA statement, Tall said that in his experience: “usually when they announce this type of thing it usually precedes something else, to create a climate to support something else, some policy.”
Tall mentioned the detention facility that Israel is building in the south, which was supposed to be finished by this summer, and could cost hundreds of millions of shekels. He also spoke of upcoming deliberations on an anti-infiltrators bill, which passed its first reading at the end of the Knesset plenum in March.
If it goes into effect, the law would allow authorities to detain infiltrators for up to three years. They would also have no right to a speedy trial, and those who assist them could face time in prison as well.
Tall said that in regard to the detention facility, the UNHCR “understands that the government of Israel must take measures to handle the influx of asylum seekers, and if Israel does build the camp we want it to meet all standards. But we also see how there’s a perceived linkage between the anti-infiltration legislation and the camp. But we want this legislation to exclude refugees.”
On Tuesday, Amnesty Israel issued a statement that was cosigned by five human rights organizations in Israel, which said “the plan to build the world’s largest detention facility in order to jail asylum seekers and their children is a Draconian plan and immoral, and goes against Israel’s international obligations.”
Israel is a signatory of the 1951 United Nations convention on refugees. Under the convention, the country to which a refugee has arrived must protect their freedom of movement and right to work, and is responsible for their health and welfare as well.
If the migrants are considered refugees, then the detention facility could be a violation of that convention.