Proposed Law Would Limit Refugees’ Detention to 20 Months

After High Court voided previous two versions, amendment to Prevention of Infiltration Law toned down.

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African asylum seekers at Holot detention center in the Negev.
African asylum seekers at Holot detention center in the Negev. Credit: Eli Hershkovitz

A newly proposed amendment to the Anti-Infiltration Law would limit asylum seekers’ confinement in the Holot detention center to 20 months, if passed.

The Interior Ministry Wednesday issued a circular of the bill, recently submitted by incoming Interior Minister Gilad Erdan and Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein. The previous amendment, which the High Court of Justice struck down about two months ago, did not limit the asylum seekers’ incarceration in the facility.

The new bill reduces roll calls for interns from three times daily in the previous version to once in the evening, and shortens the confinement period of newly arrived asylum seekers from a year to three months. After that, inmates will be moved from Saharonim Prison to Holot, the circular says.

Outgoing Interior Minister Gideon Sa’ar failed to complete the bill before leaving due to disagreements with Weinstein, mainly over the refugees’ confinement periods. Sa’ar demanded a minimum detention of two years in Holot and an eight-month minimum detention of new asylum seekers. Weinstein, however, insisted on shortening the detention periods, for fear the High Court would void the law again.

The new amendment forbids asylum seekers interned in Holot to work, like the previous one did, and introduces measures intended to deter employers from hiring them. It allows imposing heavy fines on employers who hire asylum seekers required to stay in Holot or whose visa has expired.

Employers of asylum seekers who are not held in Holot will be required to deposit a monthly sum as severance fees and also deduct part of the workers’ wages for this deposit. This money will only be given the refugees on their departure from Israel.

Some two months ago the High Court overturned for the second time amendments to the Prevention of Infiltration Law. Castigating the state’s conduct, the court ordered to close the Holot detention facility within 90 days, noting that it resembled a prison more than an open facility, as the state had described it.

As part of its ruling, the High Court also overturned another provision of the same law that allowed asylum seekers who entered Israel illegally to be incarcerated without trial in a closed facility for up to a year.

However, the court suspended voiding the law for three months, to enable the state to draft alternative legislation. If the legislation is not completed by December 22, the state will be required to release some 2,500 refugees from Eritrea and Sudan currently interned in Holot.

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