Detained Illegal Migrants the First to Move to Israel's Open Detention Center

State will likely soon require illegal migrants who haven’t been jailed to relocate to Sadot, with those who have been in Israel longest to be first on the list.

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Illegal African migrants currently jailed in the Saharonim detention facility will be the first to move to a planned open detention center at Sadot, an Interior Ministry official told the Knesset Internal Affairs and Environment Committee on Monday.

After that, the state will probably require illegal migrants who haven’t been jailed to relocate to Sadot, with those who have been here longest likely be first on the list, he said.

Yossi Edelstein, who heads the enforcement division at the ministry’s Population, Immigration and Border Authority, told the panel that the ministry is now drawing up criteria for which migrants should be moved to Sadot.

The facility will be open by day but closed at night, and will be capable of holding some 3,300 people. Migrants housed there will be barred from working, and will have to report for a head count three times a day to ensure that they don’t work.

“The population that needs immediate attention is that of people who are currently living in the Saharonim facility,” said Deputy Attorney General Dina Zilber, who also addressed the committee. She said some of the Saharonim detainees will be released in the coming days, pursuant to a High Court of Justice ruling that overturned a law allowing illegal migrants to be jailed for up to three years. The 90 days the state was given to comply with the ruling will expire in mid-December.

“These people understand that at the end of the 90 days, they won’t be released; they are slated to be the first to move to the open facility,” said Zilber. “The outlook guiding the government’s policy on this issue is to prevent these people from settling within Israel’s borders, and therefore on one hand we need to supply all their needs – housing, food, health and welfare services – and on the other hand the government isn’t interested in letting them work.”

Over the weekend, the Justice Ministry unveiled a new bill that would allow migrants to be jailed in a closed facility for one year instead of three. The bill also includes provisions governing the establishment and operation of Sadot.

Daniel Solomon, the population authority's legal adviser, said the new law would apply to all illegal migrants who can’t be deported, regardless of how long they have been here. He also said it included no limit on how long migrants could be kept at the open facility.

MK Miri Regev (Likud) said she would make every effort to get the bill through the Internal Affairs and Environment Committee, which she heads, before the 90 days are up. But MK Michal Rosin (Meretz), who chairs the Knesset Committee on Foreign Workers, slammed the bill, saying it would still “imprison people for an unlimited period of time.”

Last week, during a court hearing on a request by several human rights organizations to find the state in contempt of court because it hadn’t yet freed all the imprisoned migrants, a lawyer at the State Prosecutor's Office reported that of the approximately 1,700 migrants at Saharonim, the state had so far examined the cases of 600 to see whether they were jailed due to the overturned law, and had thus far freed 228 of them.

The rights organizations have accused the state of deliberately dragging out the process until the unfinished Sadot facility is ready so that it can transfer the migrants straight to Sadot.

During that hearing, Yochi Gnessin, the lawyer representing the State Prosecutor's Office, promised that the population authority will be updating its website every week with data on how many migrants have had their cases examined and how many have been released.

An official from the Immigration and Population Authority questioning a Sudanese migrant.Credit: Alex Levac

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