African Migrants Will Be Prohibited From Working at New Detention Center

Knesset Foreign Workers Committee chairperson compares it to a prison.

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The state intends to build a new detention center for African migrants near Ketziot prison in the Negev. Inmates will be allowed to leave the facility during the day, but will have to return every evening for roll call. An Interior Ministry official Wednesday outlined the plan at a meeting of the Knesset's Committee for Foreign Affairs.

Inmates of the facility will not be allowed to work and the state will provide them with food, board and education, medical and welfare services, Daniel Solomon, legal adviser to the ministry's Immigration and Population Authority, told the committee. The migrants will have to report for a daily roll call at the facility during the day as well to make sure they don't work, Solomon said. The first migrants to be interned at the facility will be those who are currently imprisoned in Israel. At a later stage, the authority plans on imprisoning African migrants who are still free, he said.

The chairman of the Knesset Foreign Workers Committee, Michal Rozin (Meretz), Wednesday blasted the plans to operate the detention facility. "The open detention facility is both senseless and an alternative prison," she said. "If the inmates won't be able to work and will have to report for a number of roll calls a day, then what's the difference between it and a prison?"

Justice Ministry officials are drafting a proposal detailing the regulations for holding migrants in custody, following the High Court of Justice ruling that nullified the amendment to the anti-infiltration law last month.

The new law is expected to shorten the migrants' prison term for infiltration from three years to 18 months and to stipulate which of them can be held in the "open" detention center and under what conditions. The proposal is expected to be completed next month. Solomon said that since the High Court ruling a month and a half ago and the court's instruction to release immediately the 1,800 interned migrants, some 100 of them have been freed. However, an authority official reported to the committee on Monday that only 33 of the detainees have been released so far.

Human rights groups have protested the slow release pace. The court had ordered the state to release the detainees immediately, setting a 90-day deadline to complete the process. The groups are accusing the state of deliberate foot-dragging, intended to give the immigration authorities time to transfer most of the detainees to the open facility without releasing them, despite the court's order.

Interior Ministry officials said they are examining the detainees' cases individually and releasing them gradually. But a senior source told Haaretz the state wants to complete the legislation and operate the new detention facility quickly, so it can move the incarcerated migrants into it without having to look for them in the streets again.

African migrants in Tel Aviv, August 2013. Credit: Nir Keidar

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