Netanyahu, ministers mull new migrant law
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Netanyahu, ministers mull new migrant law

Discussions follow High Court ruling that state can no longer detain migrants for up to a year without trial

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

Israeli ministers met Tuesday to discuss a new law to deal with illegal immigrants from Africa, after the High Court barred the government from detaining them without trial.

The discussion, between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the ministers of justice, the interior and public security, comes a day after a heated parliamentary debate which saw hardliners criticizing the court ruling.

“The court’s decision… does not enable the state to deal with the phenomenon of infiltration,” outgoing Interior Minister Gideon Sa’ar said on Monday, using a term for the movement of African migrants widely employed by Israeli politicians.

According to the September 22 ruling, Israel can no longer detain illegal migrants for up to a year without trial, with the court ordering the closure of the Holot detention center within 90 days.

Around 2,000 African nationals are currently being held at the center located in the southern Negev desert.

A year ago, the High Court struck down a similar law allowing them to be held for up to three years without trial.

Government figures indicate there are some 48,000 Africans living illegally in Israel, most of them from Eritrea, where the regime has been repeatedly accused of widespread human rights abuses, and from conflict-torn Sudan.

Many of them are living in impoverished areas of southern Tel Aviv, where residents have frequently protested against their presence.

A spokeswoman for Justice Minister Tzipi Livni said while new legislation was necessary, it would not contradict the court’s ruling, which protected the Africans’ fundamental rights.

“Israel has a fundamental right to prevent the infiltration of work migrants through its borders, yet at the same time they will be treated only within the limitations set out by the court,” spokeswoman Mia Bengel told AFP prior to the meeting.

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