Netanyahu Backs Bill for Prolonged Detention of Illegal Migrants

Proposed law comes after the High Court of Justice declared the previous government law on the subject unconstitutional.

Ilan Lior
Ilan Lior
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Ilan Lior
Ilan Lior

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced his decision to push forward a law that would enable the state to confine illegal migrant for a year and a half on Thursday. The new law would replace of the Infiltration Prevention Law recently overturned by the High Court of Justice that allowed the state to confine illegal migrants for a period of up to three years.

I have ordered to move forward with new legislation that will enable the strengthening of the detention of illegal work infiltrators, in accordance with the recommendations brought before me by Interior Minister Gideon Sa'ar, Netanyahu said in an announcement on his Facebook page. He continued to say that the government must continue with the measures that had nearly completely stopped the stream of migrants crossing Israel's borders illigally, and not rely solely on the physical obstacle posed by the border fence. There are no privileges for illegal infiltrators at the expense of Israeli citizens, he added.

An expanded panel of nine High Court justices declared unconstitutional the amendment to the Infiltration Prevention Law that the state used to hold close to 1,800 African migrants in detention facilities. The amended law permitted the confinement of migrants for up to three years just for committing the crime of illegally crossing the border into Israel. The judges declared the law unconstitutional on the grounds that it disproportionately infringed on the right to freedom and contradicted the Basic Law on Human Dignity and Freedom. Despite the court ruling in mid-September immediately overturning the law and instructing the state to free the detainees within 90 days, it appears that only two detained migrants have been freed since.

Immediately following the ruling, Netanyahu and Sa'ar promised to quickly formulate alternative plans for dealing with the problem of illegal migrants. Since then, the interior and justice ministries have been looking for creative solutions to the problem. This week, it became clear that the first proposal brought to the prime minister for his approval would be a similar law to that which was overturned, but that reduced the period of detention from three years to one year and a half.

On Tuesday, MK Ayelet Shaked (Habayit Hayehudi) revealed during a meeting of the Knesset committee examining the foreign workers issue that the state also plans to establish open stay centers. According to the initial details about the plan, migrant workers will reside in the open facilities at night, but will be allowed to leave the compounds during specific hours to work, among other activities. Nevertheless, it is still unclear where the new facilities will be built, what specific restrictions will apply to its residents and how freely they will be able to move about. A Justice Ministry representative at the committee hearing refused to discuss the plans being formulated. The Interior Ministry also refused to provide any details.

We find ourselves at a dramatic moment for asylum seekers in Israel and in the near future crucial decisions are expected to be made regarding them, said the committee chair MK Michal Rosin (Meretz). She then blamed the authorities of not providing clear answers on the new policy for handling the migrants following the High Court's decision. It's possible that there are those who do not find solving the distress of asylum seekers in Israel a pressing concern, she said.

Afriacn migrants in the Saharonim detention facility.Credit: Eliahu Hershkovitz

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