Aid Organization for Refugees and Asylum Seekers in Israel

Knesset okays detention of migrants without trial

Date: 10.12.13 Source: Haaretz, Jonathan Lis

Israeli lawmakers on Tuesday passed controversial legislation allowing Israel to detain illegal migrants without trial for one year.

The amendment to the Anti-Infiltration Law passed its second and third Knesset readings at the conclusion of a tumultuous plenum session that began on Monday evening and lasted well into the night.

The legislation further allows for the operation of a migrant detention facility that is to be open during the day and locked at night. The detainees at the facility, which can hold up to 3,300 people, will be barred from working, but will be provided with shelter, food, healthcare and social services.

Interior Minister Gideon Sa'ar came out in defense of the law, deflecting objections voiced by members of the opposition.

"Not only are we not embarrassed by this law, but we would have been deeply ashamed had we stood helpless in the face of this aspect of Israeli defense," he said.

"Israel is the only country in the West that is exposed to this danger because it shares a land border with Africa," he said, referring to the influx of migrants. "The sea separates between the other countries and Africa. We cannot burden ourselves with all the ills and problems of the African continent. This isn't a passing danger, but a lurking danger.

"If it's worth it [for migrants] to come here, if it's possible to come work and make a living here, they will come," he warned.

Thirty Knesset members voted in favor of the legislation, while 15 others voted against it. Sa'ar, Health Minister Yael German and Pensioner Affairs Minister Uri Orbach were the only cabinet members to take part in the vote.

Knesset Member Miri Regev (Likud) dismissed claims that the amendment constitutes violation of human rights.

"The residents of southern Tel Aviv and Eilat have human rights too," she said, referring to areas with large concentrations of migrants. "Human rights are not only for migrant workers and infiltrating laborers. Enough with the bleeding hearts… No country treats labor migrants like Israel."

MK Stav Shaffir (Labor) fired back by saying that the legislation exploits residents of southern Tel Aviv "and serves the government as an excuse for neglecting them in the future. The government isn't providing a long-term solution here. It is just faking a solution that will get it through the next television poll."

MK Eli Yishai insisted that one-year detention is not enough.  

"In order to deal with infiltrators we need to forcefully implement three or four elements," he added. "We need a fence, but a fence is not enough. There are ladders and tunnels. We also need enforcement. We need hot pursuit; we need military presence along the fence. We need detention for three years. I hope that the one-year jail term will serve as a sufficient deterrent."

On Monday, the High Court of Justice refused a request by human rights groups to find the state in contempt of court because the government has failed to implement a ruling that invalidated the Anti-Infiltration Law.

In September, the High Court ordered the state to review the cases of some 1,700 detained illegal migrants, and free those who are not accused of any other crimes. The court set the deadline for this process at December 15.

Of the 1,700 migrants held in custody, the state has released 707 people so far. It said it has reviewed all but 500 cases.

“Despite being displeased with the slow manner in which the state is examining the cases of the migrants and the decisions relating to the ruling, we have decided to reject the request,” ruled Justices Miriam Naor, Esther Hayut and Edna Arbel.