53 suspects in Tel Aviv migrant clashes placed in administrative detention

Police minister said to push authorities to advance process, as state reportedly uninterested in pressing charges that may prevent suspects from leaving Israel

Michael Horovitz is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel

File: An Eritrean asylum seeker being detained by police amid clashes between protesters against the regime in Asmara and pro-regime activists in south Tel Aviv, September 2, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
File: An Eritrean asylum seeker being detained by police amid clashes between protesters against the regime in Asmara and pro-regime activists in south Tel Aviv, September 2, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Over 50 Eritrean asylum seekers suspected of involvement in violent clashes in Tel Aviv over the weekend were placed in administrative detention on Monday and Tuesday, apparently at the behest of National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir.

The Population, Immigration and Border Authority (PIBA) questioned 53 suspects and then transferred them to Givon Prison in Ramle, where they will be held for at least four days.

On Saturday, at least 170 people were wounded, including police officers, in hours-long clashes in south Tel Aviv between migrant supporters and opponents of Eritrea’s government. Police responded to the riots with live fire, leaving dozens hospitalized. Several officers were also hospitalized with wounds sustained in the incident.

The Haaretz daily reported that 14 of those detained were supporters of the Eritrean regime, 20 were opposed, and the rest were unaffiliated.

The suspects will appear before a court to determine an extension of their custody.

In addition to the use of administrative detention, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday the government would seek to deport those involved in the riots.

Saturday’s riots broke out amid a demonstration against an official Eritrean government event marking the 30th anniversary of autocratic President Isaias Afwerki’s rise to power. Opponents of the regime, decked in blue, arrived on the scene to demonstrate against supporters, who wore red. The rallies soon devolved into violence that lasted for several hours.

File: National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir visits south Tel Aviv on September 3, 2023, a day after Eritrean migrants rioted in the area. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

According to the Ynet news site, law enforcement was hesitant to pursue hearings for the suspects until last night, when Ben Gvir called PIBA officials to expedite the legal process and bring them into administrative detention.

An unnamed official in law enforcement told Haaretz the state does not want to pursue criminal charges against migrants involved in the riots, as it will harm their chances of being accepted into a third country and voluntarily leaving.

“I am aware of attempts by defense lawyers to bring about the release of rioting infiltrators who brought war to the streets of Tel Aviv,” Ben Gvir said in a statement. “But public defense lawyers were not created for this, certainly not when the money comes from the Israeli taxpayer.”

“I am happy that we succeeded in bringing most of those arrested to administrative detention, and I hope that in the court, where a hearing is meant to take place, they will also take into account the residents of Tel Aviv and Israeli citizens, who deserve to live peacefully in their neighborhoods,” he added.

Meanwhile, police arrested eight additional Eritrean migrants in south Tel Aviv over a separate street brawl Monday night.

Migrants and asylum-seekers have been met with antipathy by successive Israeli governments, and face an uncertain future as the state has granted refugee status only in a minuscule number of cases and has engaged in ongoing efforts to make life difficult for them or to deport them outright.

File: Broken glass, sabotaged restaurants and bars, a day after a rampage in southern Tel Aviv, when Eritrean asylum seekers pro-Eritrean regime, clashed with those opposing the regime, and Israeli police, September 03, 2023. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

The issue is often cited by supporters of the government’s judicial overhaul as an example of court overreach in defiance of public will, while opponents of the overhaul cite the same decisions as proving the court’s key role in protecting human rights.

The court in the past blocked jailing migrants for extended periods of time without trial and also struck down a move to force them to deposit 20 percent of their work salary in a fund, with the money released only upon their departure from the country.

Some 30,000 migrants, mostly from Sudan and Eritrea, are thought to be in the country, with many of them contending they are refugees from war and oppression. Most African migrants arrived in Israel through Egypt in 2007-2012, before Israel built a barrier along the desert border. Few migrants have arrived since that time.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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