Hundreds protest new provision to asylum seekers law

Crowd rallies in Negev against amendment that allows detainment of refugees for up to 20 months 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)

Hundreds of demonstrators gathered in southern Israel to protest a new law to help quell the influx of African migrants, which Israel calls “infiltrators.”

The law, which allows the government to imprison refugees for 20 months without trial, was denounced on Saturday by throngs of activists outside of the Holot detention center in the Negev desert.

The law is primarily directed at refugees from the east African countries of Sudan and Eritrea who come to escape political persecution and seek out economic opportunities. Both Eritrea and Sudan have been engulfed in years of war and have some of the lowest standards of living in the world, causing them to make the treacherous journey to Israel.

According to a Ynet report, the protesters chanted for the government to “Listen to the Supreme Court;” a reference to a landmark decision in September that declared the previous policy of indefinite detention of asylum seekers to be illegal.

The court also ruled that Holot — an open facility that is home to 2,500 African asylum seekers — had to be closed by December 22. In light of the ruling, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in conjunction with the Interior Ministry, later made amendments to the law in November by allowing for illegal immigrants to be detained for a period of 20 months without trial; a change that, in effect, allowed for Holot to stay open.

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 Holot detention facility 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.

Times of Israel Staff, Tamar Pileggi and AP contributed to this report

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