Freed migrants banned from Tel Aviv and Eilat
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Freed migrants banned from Tel Aviv and Eilat

Interior minister imposes restrictions as court-ordered mass release from Holot center comes into effect

African migrants protest outside the Holot detention center in the Negev Desert in southern Israel, February 17, 2014. (Flash90)
African migrants protest outside the Holot detention center in the Negev Desert in southern Israel, February 17, 2014. (Flash90)

Interior Minister Silvan Shalom on Sunday ordered that 1,200 African migrants set to be freed from a holding center be forbidden from traveling to the industrial hub of Tel Aviv or the southern port city of Eilat.

Both cities are home to relatively large numbers of migrants, and Tel Aviv, at least, has seen friction with local residents opposed to their presence.

The migrants are scheduled to be released from the Holot detention center in two stages on Tuesday and Wednesday, with roughly 600 detainees allowed permanently out of the gates each day.

Wednesday marks the deadline for the migrants’ release, following a High Court of Justice decision two weeks ago that bans the state from holding people in the center for more than a year.

The released migrants will be issued with identity cards and anyone caught in the prohibited cities will be sent to Saharonim Prison in the Negev Desert. While the Holot facility is an open center — detainees are free to leave during the day, but required to attend a twice-daily roll call — those held in Saharonim will not be allowed to leave the compound.

Another 500 migrants will remain behind in the Holot facility. All the members of this group have been there for less than 12 months.

Interior Minister Silvan Shalom at the Ministry of the Interior, Jerusalem on May 17, 2015. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Interior Minister Silvan Shalom at the Ministry of the Interior, Jerusalem, on May 17, 2015 (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

According to a report by Israel’s Haaretz daily, a similar plan to ban migrants from specific cities was proposed in 2008. However, it was cancelled before it went into effect after protests from communities in the periphery.

In recent years, an estimated 47,000 African migrants have managed to illegally enter Israel via Egypt, seeking jobs or asylum.

Earlier this month the High Court upheld the Prevention of Infiltration Law after it was challenged by human rights groups, but ruled that the government could not hold migrants in detention facilities for more than 12 months — as opposed to the 20-month period that the government had been imposing. The ruling meant that the state had to release hundreds of migrants held in Holot. Aside from disputing the length of the detention period, the nine-judge panel ratified the law.

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

The court gave the Knesset six months to revise the legislation in accordance with the ruling.

Among the African migrants living in Israel — the vast majority of whom claim asylum-seeker status — more than 90 percent 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.

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