Migrants begin to be freed from detention center

After court ruling, African migrants and asylum seekers held for more than a year at Holot to be released, but are banned from heading to Tel Aviv, Eilat

African migrants protest outside Holot detention center in the Negev Desert, southern Israel. February 17, 2014. (FLASH90)
African migrants protest outside Holot detention center in the Negev Desert, southern Israel. February 17, 2014. (FLASH90)

Hundreds of migrants held for more than a year in an detention center in southern Israel began to be freed Tuesday, following a court ruling two weeks ago that capped temporary detention terms at 12 months, down from 20.

1,178 asylum seekers will be released from the Holot facility this week, 600 on Tuesday and the rest on Wednesday, after the High Court of Justice commuted the 20-month incarceration period for illegal migrants, decrying it as “disproportionate.”

The terms of their release ban them from living or working in Tel Aviv and Eilat, which both feature 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 are expected to head to Arad, Ashkelon, Ashdod, Rishon LeZion, Yavneh and Haifa, according to Channel 2.

Any migrants caught violating the terms of their release will be transferred from Tel Aviv or Eilat to other cities in Israel with significant migrant populations, the report noted.

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 will 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.

Referred to as “infiltrators” by the government, over 2,500 African migrants and asylum seekers are detained 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.

Tamar Pileggi contributed to this report.

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