Arad mayor orders police to block migrants from city

Fearing hundreds of newly freed detainees will flock to southern cities, mayor urges residents to help keep them out

African migrants carry their belongings following their release from the Holot Detention Center in the Negev desert, on August 25, 2015. (AFP PHOTO/MENAHEM KAHANA)
African migrants carry their belongings following their release from the Holot Detention Center in the Negev desert, on August 25, 2015. (AFP PHOTO/MENAHEM KAHANA)

The mayor of southern Israeli city of Arad on Tuesday ordered inspectors and police to patrol entrances to the city, in order to prevent hundreds of African migrants newly released from the Holot detention facility from settling there.

In addition to increasing police presence, Nissan Ben Hamo called on residents to stay alert and report cases of refugees trying to enter the city. Currently several hundred migrants live in Arad.

Ben Hamo criticized Interior Minister Silvan Shalom for the decision to ban the refugees from entering Tel Aviv or Eilat, which he believed would lead to an influx of migrants to southern cities including Arad.

Ben Hamo told Shalom that he “will not allow the infiltrators to arrive in Arad,” using the loaded term employed by the government to describe African refugees and asylum seekers.

“If we will be forced to intensify our battle on the subject, I will not hesitate to call all residents to rally and fight together for the peace of the city,” Ben Hamo wrote on his Facebook.

היום בבוקר שוחררו בהתאם להחלטת בג"ץ מאות מסתננים ממתקן הכליאה חולות, בהמשך ישוחררו מסתננים נוספים. החלטת שר הפנים למנוע…

Posted by ‎ניסן בן חמו – Nisan Ben Hamo‎ on Tuesday, August 25, 2015

A total of 1,178 asylum seekers were to be released from the Holot facility this week, 600 on Tuesday and the rest on Wednesday, a line with a High Court of Justice ruling that the previous 20-month incarceration period for illegal migrants was”disproportionate.”

The terms of their release ban migrants from living or working in Tel Aviv and Eilat, which both already have large migrant populations, although it is unclear to what extent such an edict can be enforced.

All those freed will receive a monthly NIS 600 stipend ($156), their belongings, water, food and medicine. Most were expected to head to Arad, Ashkelon and Ashdod in the south, Rishon Lezion and Yavneh in the center, and Haifa in the north, Channel 2 said.

African illegal migrants carry their belongings following their release from the Holot Detention Centre in Israel's Negev desert, on August 25, 2015. (AFP PHOTO/MENAHEM KAHANA)
African illegal migrants carry their belongings following their release from the Holot Detention Centre in Israel’s Negev desert, on August 25, 2015. (AFP PHOTO/MENAHEM KAHANA)

For one migrant, Tuesday’s release was bittersweet. Faysal Hussein, 28, from Sudan, walked out of Holot’s police-patrolled entrance with a backpack, a few dozen shekels, no job or home, and no idea where to go. Like the others leaving with him, he said he has little support and was now forced to catch a bus to somewhere else, where the pressure to find food, shelter, medical care, and safety would begin again.

“I have no place to go. I don’t know anyone. I have no money. I don’t know what to do,” Hussein said.

Those released from Holot have limited employment opportunities. They are officially barred from working, but many still find jobs in the service industry. They are not eligible for public welfare and the ban on entering Tel Aviv and Eilat severs them from the epicenters of African communities and potential job prospects.

Many leaving Tuesday said they would go to other, smaller, cities, where they hoped to find work.

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

Dozens of residents of south Tel Aviv protested against the court ruling two weeks ago, saying that the mass release would lead to an influx of migrants there, along with a spike in crime.

“If the High Court lived among us, it would know about all the attacks here, all the crime, that people here have no sense of personal security,” Yigal Ben-David, a protester at the demonstration said.

The Prevention of Infiltration Law seeks to prevent additional illegal immigration to Israel and encourages those already in the Jewish state to leave.

Over 2,500 African migrants and asylum seekers are detained in the “open” Holot facility in the Negev, where inmates are required to check in during morning and evening hours but are free to leave during the day.

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.

AP and Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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