African migrants in Tel Aviv 5.6.12
African migrants in Tel Aviv. Photo by Alon Ron
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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has instructed the Defense Ministry to erect tent cities to hold African migrants, and the ministry has begun to plan for the operation.

The directives call for "creating accommodations for infiltrators, as quickly and for as many people as possible."

The Defense Ministry and the Israel Defense Forces already have the tents, which have been used mainly by the Home Front Command in foreign rescue missions.

The ministry will be implementing a contingency plan for housing large number of Israelis in temporary tent cities in the Arava Desert in the event of war. The location and capacity of the new tent cities are unknown. The main problem will be finding a suitable site.

"It's easier to erect tents than to build a detention facility, but you still need a place with electricity, running water and sewage lines, and you have to fence it in somehow," one Defense Ministry official said Monday. He said that while a tent city might be the quickest solution, it still poses many logistical problems.

The director general of the Defense Ministry, Maj. Gen. (res.) Udi Shani, and his deputy for logistics operations, Bezalel Traiber, are searching for possible locations.

In a related matter, the state yesterday asked a Jerusalem court to lift a temporary stay of execution prohibiting the repatriation of citizens of South Sudan.

Deputy Jerusalem District Attorney Moran Braun said the state rejects the argument that conditions in South Sudan are too dangerous to allow for the deportation of the country's nationals. She was responding to a petition submitted by five human rights organizations.

The state argued that conditions in the country have stabilized since independence was declared nearly a year ago and that the refugees can safely be returned.

Braun told the court that while Israel did not deny that the newly established state has problems, "there are no reports from there saying that all citizens are in life-threatening danger every second, at all times."

"There are hundreds of reports of people who returned to Israel and spoke about leading a normal life there, either in the mountains or other areas, including receiving health services and the like," Braun said.

But Anat Ben-Dor, a lawyer who co-founded the Refugee Rights Clinic at Tel Aviv University, which is representing the petitioning organizations, rejected the state's test for deportation. Under the state's standards, she said, "every citizen must be in danger every second."

"If you're returning a person to a situation of extreme hunger, where there is no food, no shelter and no basic security, in such a situation don't you have to provide protection to them?" Ben-Dor asked.

The aid agencies estimate the number of migrants from South Sudan at around 700, more than half of whom are children. The state says the number is higher, at more than 1,000.

Jerusalem District Court Judge Yigal Mersel postponed his ruling to a later date, which has not yet been scheduled.