A new gated facility to house illegal African migrants welcomed its first few hundred residents on Thursday as authorities sought to implement new legislation aimed at containing Israel’s migrant population.
Four hundred and eighty African migrants, mostly from Eritrea and Sudan, were transferred to the Holot compound, which is located in the Negev desert and has a maximum capacity of 3,000. about 1,000 migrants would be held there by the month’s end, Prison services spokeswoman Sivan Weitzman said.
The facility is to have an open-door policy in which residents will be allowed to leave the site during the day but will also be required to return three times for a roll call. The Holot gates will be locked between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. every night, during which time all residents must be within its fences. Around a dozen migrants are to be housed in every dorm room, and each wing, comprising 140 residents, has its own dining room and recreation areas.
Those living at the facility will not be permitted to work in Israel. The Immigration and Border Authority said earlier this week that it intended to crack down on Israelis who illegally employ migrants.
Authorities hope that by denying migrants the possibility of finding employment, Israel will become a less attractive destination for Africans, who leave their home countries to escape desperate conditions brought on by conflicts and political turmoil.
The migrants are to receive NIS 500 ($142) a month during their time in Holot and there are also plans to employ some of the residents at the facility for an hourly wage.
The new facility is close to the Saharonim prison complex where migrants are currently held without the freedom to leave the compound. Israel’s Supreme Court ruled recently that incarcerating the migrants without trial for up to three years, as was previously the standard, was unconstitutional.
On Monday, in the wake of the ruling, 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, more open holding facility.
There are currently upwards of 50,000 African migrants in Israel. Some 1,750 are being held by the state, most of them at Saharonim.
Rights groups condemned the new law and the conditions under which migrants are to be kept at the Holot facility. In a joint statement released by several groups, activists said the facility was little more than another prison.
“Imprisonment without judicial review for an unlimited time of 3,000 people out of 50,000 seeking shelter in Israel is… draconian, undemocratic, and a mortal blow to human rights,” the statement said.
AP contributed to this report.