African migrants behind barbed wire.
African migrants behind barbed wire at the Saharonim detention facility in the Negev last year. Photo by Eliyahu Hershkovitz
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Police have collected about 1,000 DNA samples of African migrants who crossed into Israel since the beginning of 2012 and continue to collect samples from those entering Israel through Egypt, Commander Eran Kamin of the Investigations Division told a Knesset committee Tuesday.

The special debate at the Knesset Committee on Foreign Workers was convened following Haaretz's report last week that Police overcame legal obstacles to take DNA samples from migrants, by using a security-related clause to open criminal cases against some of them, thus enabling it to legally collect samples. Before using this loophole, senior police officials had approached Knesset Committees requesting to collect samples, but were turned down.

In 2010, the police opened cases against four migrants on a security-related offense, and in 2011, no such cases were opened. But Haaretz has learned that in 2012, 606 such cases of this type were opened − and police had collected DNA from all of these individuals.

Kamin affirmed that the report was correct, but was quick to stress that police did not create a migrant DNA database and that the samples were added to a general pool. "Our actions are based on the Prevention of Infiltration Law, which according to Criminal Procedure Law, allows us to take fingerprints, photos and collect cheek swab DNA samples," Kamin said, adding that the procedure was cleared by the Attorney General, and that it was the very same committee, headed in the last Knesset by Yaakov Katz (National Union), that called on police to collect DNA samples from African migrants.

"We approached the AG and received the authorization that the law spells out," Kamin said. "It's not a new authorization; it's the authorization to collect identification data as specified in Criminal Procedure Law, when the offense is infiltration to Israel," he stressed. "We collect this data since these people have no identification. The data allows us in certain cases to identify the offender."

Still, police have not solved any crimes as a result of such DNA sampling. Kamin explained that most of the subjects of a buccal swab were incarcerated at the Negev’s Saharonim detention facility, and therefore the efficiency of the samples for solving crimes is limited.

Kamin added that the police do not collect samples from women or children. "We are aware that those entering Israel have had unpleasant experiences, to say the least, but still, we're aware of the fact that they broke the law. The law defines them as infiltrators. The police do not distinguish between an individual who infiltrated Israel's border and one who attacked an old woman in the central bus station. There's no difference." Responding to a question of committee member Moshe Mizrahi (Labor), Kamin said that police do indeed open criminal cases for infiltration, but that the offense alone does not lead to indictments. Kamin indirectly agreed that the cases were opened exclusively for DNA sample collecting.

Alva Kolan of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel criticized the police: "This is a cynical use of the Prevention of Infiltration Law, and squarely contradicts the International Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, which explicitly states that infiltration, in itself, cannot be considered a criminal offense. The Prevention of Infiltration Law is cynically exploited to incriminate a specific population."

Committee chairwoman, Michal Rosin (Meretz) concurred: "Israeli law seems in this case to contradict the international convention, thus transforming these refugees and asylum seekers to potential criminals." Rosin added that "in fact, people are accused of a crime on ethnic grounds."

Oscar Olivier, an advocate for asylum seekers, told the committee that the African migrants were angry at the procedure. "Coming in without a passport or visa does not automatically make a person a monster. If they need DNA samples, they should take them from everyone. I'll be the first to give samples. People in the community are asking 'what is more frightening? What has been going on for a year now, and has just come out or things already being carried out that we still know nothing about."

Deputy Interior Minister, Faina Kirshenbaum (Yisrael Beiteinu), who attended the debate, rejected criticism of the police. "I'm positive the authorities are doing their best to safeguard the health and security of Israeli citizens," she said. "This action is not harassment of a particular population. I have a feeling the police are accused of hurting the rights of the infiltrators. This isn't the intention; it is the infiltrators who hurt the rights of Israel when they crossed its borders."