Cabinet approves relaxing migrant detention law
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Cabinet approves relaxing migrant detention law

Amendment to current legislation limits to 20 months the period of incarceration in facility for border-crossing migrants

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

The cabinet on Sunday unanimously approved a move to limit the time African migrants can be held at detention facilities, as well as ease procedures so that attendance at holding sites is taken just once a day.

A new 20-month limit will be placed on the confinement of migrants at the Holot detention facility, according to the amendment to legislation on illegal immigration okayed by the ministers.

The modification was drawn up by the Interior Ministry after the Supreme Court struck down a previous version in September. The former amendment lacked any time limitation on the holding of asylum seekers in the facility.

It will go before the Knesset for parliamentary a vote next month.

Further changes to the law included a reduction of roll calls in the Holot facility, from three times a day to once a day. Under current regulations, residents are permitted to leave the remote desert site during the day but must return to attend the roll calls.

In addition, the incarceration period of newly apprehended migrants in prison will be limited to three months, down from one year, after which they will be transferred to Holot, described by the Israeli government as an open detention facility.

The new terms were agreed upon following two months of intense government efforts to formalize a new draft.

In September, the Supreme Court had repealed the amendment to the Prevention of Infiltration law for a second time. Judges deemed Holot to be more akin to a prison than, as the Israeli government presented it, an “open facility.” The court granted the government three months to find an alternative policy before it completely repealed the law.

If final legislative procedures are not completed by December 22, the government will be required to release the estimated 2,500 migrants currently detained in Holot.

On November 6, the Interior Ministry said it would release 138 asylum seekers who had been held at the Holot facility for over two years, in response to a High Court ruling deeming the continued detention illegal.

The new draft of the bill keeps the employment prohibition on Holot detainees, and new measures were placed to deter employers from taking on asylum seekers who were ordered to report at the facility. The law will allow steep fines for anyone found illegally employing asylum seekers.

Employers of permit-holding asylum seekers will be obliged to garnish the workers’ wages, and only return the money upon their departure from Israel.

Since 2006, some 50,000 Eritreans and Sudanese have entered Israel illegally via the Sinai desert, prompting authorities to construct a fence along the border and build the large Holot detention facility in the Negev desert to house them.

For the past eight years, Israel has struggled to establish and implement a clear legal framework to deal with the large influx of migrants, which has resulted in confusing and often conflicting ad hoc immigration policies.

Tamar Pileggi and AP contributed to this report.

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