For the second time in a week, dozens of African migrants escaped a new detention facility in Israel’s south, and made their way toward the Beersheba central bus station for a planned protest sit-in.
Close to 130 migrants marched Thursday to protest the arrests of their fellows, who were apprehended by police during a gathering in front of the Prime Minister’s Office earlier this week.
Immigration police officers who arrived at the scene ordered the demonstrators to stop marching, and arrested several of them who attempted to flee. According to police, half of the marchers were detained at the Saharonim prison complex while the remaining protesters were returned to the newly established Holot detention facility.
Since last Thursday, 480 African migrants, mostly from Eritrea and Sudan, were transferred to Holot, which is located in the Negev desert and can hold as many as 3,000.
On Sunday, 250 migrants fled Holot for a sit-in in Jerusalem to demonstrate against rules keeping them in the detention center. Hundreds of migrants were arrested during the sit-in and approximately 150 still remain in detention, the Israel Prison Service said.
Holot replaces the Saharonim prison complex, where migrants have been held up until last week. The new facility, where the terms of the migrants’ detention are somewhat more lax than at Saharonim, was erected after Israel’s Supreme Court ruled that incarcerating the migrants without trial for up to three years, as was previously the standard, was unconstitutional.
The facility has an open-door policy in which residents are permitted to leave the site during the day but are required to return three times for a roll call. The Holot gates are locked between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. every night, during which time all residents must be behind its fences. Around a dozen migrants were to be housed in every dorm room, and each wing, with a capacity of 140 residents, has its own dining room and recreation areas.
“The infiltrators who were transferred to a special facility can stay there, or return to their home countries,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement Tuesday.
“Just as we are determined to protect our borders, we are determined to enforce the law,” he added. “The law exists for everyone. A law is a law, and it most certainly applies to illegal work infiltrators.”
Last week, in the wake of the court ruling prohibiting the incarceration of migrants without trial for up to three years, the Knesset approved changes in the Migrant Law to enable authorities to imprison migrants who arrived in Israel after June 2013 for up to a year without trial and to keep them indefinitely at the new Holot facility.
There are currently upwards of 50,000 African migrants in Israel. Some 1,750 were being held by the state when Holot opened, most of them at Saharonim.
Stuart Winer, Yifa Yaakov and Lazar Berman contributed to this report.