African migrants being held in Israel's Saharonim detention facility 4.6.12
African migrants being held in Israel's Saharonim detention facility. Photo by Eliyahu Hershkovitz
Text size

Israel’s Defense Ministry announced Thursday that it will erect between 20,000-25,000 tents for African migrants at various detention centers by the end of the year.

According to an official statement, the Defense Ministry and the Israel Defense Forces will build the tent cities in five different detention centers within a matter of months. Once built, the centers will be run by the Israel Prison Service.

Three of those detention centers will be built near the Ketziot prison in the near future, and will be connected to water, electric and sewage infrastructures which the Defense Ministry have been building over the last several weeks.

The objective of the plan, according to the ministry, is to ensure that all African migrants who enter Israel will be directly transferred to a detention center where they will stay for long periods of time, in order to prevent their entry to Israeli cities.

The plan was presented to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu earlier on Thursday after his bureau ordered a quick and efficient response to the migrant issue.

The announcement comes hours after the Jerusalem's District Court ruled that Israel could deport South Sudanese nationals back to their county, thus rejecting an appeal by migrant worker NGOs against a decision by Interior Minister Eli Yishai to halt Israel's collective defense of citizens form the war-torn country.

Yishai said in response to the ruling that he "congratulates the court's decision, one allowing the deportation of about 1,500 infiltrators who had arrived from South Sudan," adding he "hopes this is the first step in a series of measures allowing us to deport [migrants] from Eritrea and North Sudan.

Some 1,000 South Sudanese are believed to be in Israel, part of a larger influx of African migrants who have poured into the country in recent years. Some are refugees, while others are seeking employment.

Major violence between Sudan and South Sudan has flared recently, pushing the region to the edge of all-out war, according to news reports.

Speaking in response to the court's ruling, Khaled, a South Sudanese national who has been residing in Israel with two of his children since 2007, said: "I really don't know what to do."

"It's sending people and families to a dangerous place. I'm afraid to go back there with the kids, will they have a future in such place?" he added, saying that he didn't think he would to hide from authorities. "It isn't practical, I have two underage kids, I don't want to do that to them."

The NGOs who had submitted the court appeal also responded to the decision, saying they "regret the ruling" and "fear for the safety and wellbeing of the deportees, especially the children due to be send to a dangerous place."

The Jerusalem court's decision came after, late last month, Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein told the court that there is no reason to prevent the deportation of South Sudanese citizens to their country of origin, as South Sudan is safe enough for them to return home.

Weinstein based the remarks on a foreign ministry report on the economic and security conditions in South Sudan, and on the possibility of deporting migrants to the country.