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High Court strikes down new rules for African migrants

Justice orders authorities temporarily cease transfer of asylum seekers to detention facility after groups call amendment ‘unconstitutional’

Thousands of asylum seekers from Eritrea and Sudan protest the Israeli government's neglect to review asylum requests, and the state's detention policies, at a demonstration held at Rabin Square, central Tel Aviv, on January 5, 2013. (photo credit: Roni Schutzer/Flash90)
Thousands of asylum seekers from Eritrea and Sudan protest the Israeli government's neglect to review asylum requests, and the state's detention policies, at a demonstration held at Rabin Square, central Tel Aviv, on January 5, 2013. (photo credit: Roni Schutzer/Flash90)

The Israeli High Court issued a temporary injunction Thursday preventing officials from imposing new rules for African migrants recently passed by the Knesset, after human rights groups said the new amendment was nearly identical to the old law.

Justice Yoram Danziger ordered authorities to immediately cease the transfer of asylum seekers to the Holot open detention facility. Authorities are also prevented from punishing detainees by transferring them from Holot to Saharonim prison, the court ruled.

The ruling came over a week after the Knesset voted in favor of changes to the so-called “Infiltrator Law,” designed to address concerns cited by the court earlier in the year.

Under the amendment, reached following months of negotiations between the Interior Ministry and lawmakers, the amount of time migrants could be held at the Holot facility in southern Israel was limited to 20 months and the number of daily roll calls at the open detention center was scaled down to once a day.

Some 2,200 Eritrean and Sudanese asylum seekers are currently being held at Holot.

However, human rights groups claim the new rules were “practically identical structurally and conceptually to the previous amendment which was struck down by the High Court,” according to the petition.

The group also said the new rules were “unconstitutional.”

“They are not conducting a dialogue with the judicial branch, but rather a fist fight, in which anything goes,” they wrote.

The government was ordered to respond to the claims within 10 days.

Under the amendment, the incarceration period of newly apprehended asylum seekers in prison was limited to three months, after which they would be transferred to Holot.

The law also allows authorities to send detainees who break any of the facility’s rules to prison for up to four months.

The draft of the bill keeps the employment prohibition on Holot detainees, though new measures were placed to deter employers from taking on asylum seekers who were ordered to report at the facility.

The law allowed for steep fines to be placed on 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.

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 amendment was drawn up by the Interior Ministry after the court struck down a previous version in September. The former amendment lacked any time limitation during which asylum seekers could be held in the facility.

Since 2006, some 50,000 Eritreans and Sudanese have entered Israel illegally via the Sinai desert, many of them seeking refuge from civil war, persecution and genocide in their native countries.

The influx of migration prompted Israeli authorities to construct a fence along the border and build the Holot detention facility in the Negev desert to hold them.

Israel has struggled to establish and implement a clear legal framework to deal with the migrants, which has resulted in confusing and often conflicting ad hoc immigration policies.

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