Soon-to-be-released African Migrants Barred From Tel Aviv and Eilat

Israel's government speeds up processing of asylum seekers to Holot to replace 1,200 getting released.

Moti Milrod

The roughly 1,200 African asylum seekers due to be released this week from the open detention center in Holot will be barred by the government from settling in Tel Aviv or Eilat.

The temporary residence permits they will be issued will restrict their entry to these two cities, where the largest number of asylum seekers have gravitated.

The detainees, from Sudan and Eritrea, are expected to be released over the course of Tuesday and Wednesday, following a High Court of Justice ruling two weeks ago that ordered the release by Wednesday of those who have been held at Holot for more than a year. Some 500 asylum seekers who have been there for less than a year will remain.

Following the High Court ruling, the Interior Ministry stepped up the pace at which it has been ordering asylum seekers to report to Holot, in an effort to replace those about to be released. Thousands of Eritreans and Sudanese who had been free until now have been summoned to hearings over the coming months, a first step toward sending them to Holot.

Almost all the Africans who sought to renew their residence visas recently have been summoned to a hearing. By law, juveniles, women, people over age 60, fathers with minor children in Israel, victims of human trafficking and anyone whose stay at Holot might harm his health cannot be sent to the facility, which is located in the Negev.

Late last month, the Interior Ministry’s Population, Immigration and Border Authority expanded its criteria for summoning asylum seekers to Holot, which made it possible to issue summonses to these thousands of additional people. Under the new rules, for instance, Eritreans can be sent to Holot if they entered Israel by the end of July 2011, two years later than the previous cut-off date for summonses to hearings.

About two years ago, after the High Court struck down the first incarnation of the law allowing asylum seekers to be detained, the government also attempted to limit the movement of those who were released at the court’s orders. The 1,800 asylum seekers released from Saharonim Prison at the time were similarly barred from staying in Tel Aviv or Eilat.

Even prior to that, in the spring of 2008, the government began barring Eritreans and Sudanese from remaining in the center of the country, between Hadera in the north and Gedera in the south. Human rights organizations petitioned the High Court challenging the practice, but in the summer of 2009, before the court considered the petition, then-Interior Minister Eli Yishai revoked the policy following widespread protests against it in communities outside central Israel.

In its ruling two weeks ago, the High Court approved the policy of detaining asylum seekers at Holot in principle, but said the maximum detention period of 20 months was too long. It gave the Knesset six months to enact a new, shorter limit, and meanwhile ordered anyone who has been at Holot for a year or more to be released within 15 days. This order covered about 1,200 of the facility’s 1,700 residents.

From January 2014 to August 2015, 8,355 Eritreans and Sudanese left Israel under the government’s policy of encouraging “voluntary departure.” According to data provided by population authority in response to a freedom of information request, 4,608 Sudanese and 1,059 Eritreans returned to their own countries, while 1,980 Eritreans and 708 Sudanese went to third countries.

But Haaretz has found large discrepancies between the data the authority provided in response to this request and the data it publishes on an ongoing basis.