With 1,000 Africans Still in Jail, State Vows to Carry Out Court-ordered Release

Knesset poised to okay bill to detain illegal migrants for year without trial, and to regulate the use of a new detention facility in the south.

The High Court of Justice refused a request to find the state in contempt of court Monday, even though the government does not appear to be on track to meet its December 15 deadline to release the hundreds of illegal African migrants who have been held without trial and are not accused of any other crimes.

“Despite being displeased with the slow manner in which the state is examining the cases of the migrants and the decisions relating to the ruling, we have decided to reject the request,” ruled Justices Miriam Naor, Esther Hayut and Edna Arbel. All the same, wrote Naor, “There is a deadline, and it’s very close.”

Of the 1,700 migrants held in custody, the state has released 707 people so far. It said it has reviewed all but 500 cases.

“You have to shut your eyes tight not to notice that the state is in contempt of the ruling,” said Oded Feller, a lawyer for the Association of Civil Rights in Israel, one of several civil rights groups that asked the High Court to find the state in contempt of an earlier court ruling that gave the government 90 days to release the migrants. The September ruling overturned a law allowing the government to keep illegal migrants in custody for up to three years without trial.

Feller said the state was intentionally stalling, with the goal of transferring hundreds of migrants to an open detention facility that is due to open Thursday, following the Knesset’s expected approval of a revised law that regulates the facility and allows the state to hold illegal migrants for up to one year without trial.

But the State Prosecutor’s Office said the state does not plan to transfer all remaining detainees to the new facility, which will be locked down only at night but will require multiple check-ins during the day to keep detainees from working outside the detention center.

Hani Ofek, who represented the state at the hearing, said the government plans to review all remaining cases by Sunday’s deadline and will not request an extension. If the Knesset passes the revised migrant custody law, she said, the officials examining the migrants’ records will have the option of sending them to the open detention facility.

The new detention center can hold up to 1,000 migrants, but the government plans to triple its capacity within two months.

Eliyahu Hershkovitz