High Court hears petition to strike down refugee law, again
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High Court hears petition to strike down refugee law, again

Israeli NGOs hope to nullify amendment that allows for the detention of asylum seekers for 20 months

African asylum seekers leave the Holot detention center in southern Israel on December 21, 2013 (photo credit: Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
African asylum seekers leave the Holot detention center in southern Israel on December 21, 2013 (photo credit: Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

The High Court of Justice heard a petition Tuesday against an amendment to the Prevention of Infiltration Law that allows for the detention of asylum seekers for up to 20 months without trial.

The petition, submitted to the court by Israeli human rights organizations on behalf of two migrant detainees, argued that the detention of asylum seekers was an attempt to coerce them to leave Israel.

Under the current version of the law, the state is allowed to imprison asylum seekers and refugees for up to 20 months at the Holot facility without trial. Holot is an “open” facility that is currently home to some 2,500 African asylum seekers in southern Israel

Attorney Oded Feller of the Association of Civil Rights in Israel argued that unlike other countries, Israel fails to offer refugees rights, protections or tools to integrate into society. He also noted that up until recently, the state did not provide a mechanism for Eritreans and Sudanese refugees to apply for asylum from inside Israel.

African migrants protesting outside the Holot detention facility in February 2014. (photo credit: Flash90)
African migrants protesting outside the Holot detention facility in February 2014. (photo credit: Flash90)

The High Court of Justice overturned similar amendments to the law in 2013 and 2014, citing human rights violations. In its September ruling, the court ruled that the detention of the asylum seekers for an unspecified amount of time was unconstitutional and ordered the Holot facility closed by December 22. The court granted the government three months to find an alternative policy before it repealed the law completely.

In light of that ruling, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, together with the Interior Ministry, made new amendments to the law in November which allowed illegal immigrants to be detained for up to 20 months without trial — a change that, in effect, allowed Holot to stay open.

However, Israeli human rights groups were quick to point out that the new amendment was practically identical to the previous one which was struck down by the High Court in September, prompting the new appeal.

Since 2006, Israel has struggled to establish and implement a clear legal framework to deal with the large influx of migrants, resulting in confusing and often conflicting ad hoc immigration policies. The influx has slowed dramatically of late, as Israel has sealed off its border with Egypt more effectively.

There are currently about 47,000 African migrants living in Israel, the vast majority of whom claim to be asylum seekers. More than 90 percent of them come from Eritrea, Sudan and the Congo, but Israel has recognized fewer than 1 percent of asylum claims, and since 2009, less than 0.15 percent — the lowest rate in the Western world.

The Israeli NGO Hotline for Migrant Workers said it expected a ruling on Tuesday’s petition within a few months.

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