Israel Speeds Up Work on Detention Center for African Migrants in South

Plan to keep migrants away from and out of the cities was triggered by a recent spate of protests and attacks against African migrants in Israel, particularly in southern Tel Aviv.

Gili Cohen
Gili Cohen
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Gili Cohen
Gili Cohen

Dozens of bulldozers have sped up construction of a detention center for African migrants in Ketziot, near the Egypt-Israel border. The compound, built by Defense Ministry, is dubbed "Ir Amim" (City of Nations ).

"We're building the Sudanese a political asylum," a tractor driver said. "We're building roads and structures, setting up a sort of neighborhood."

The government plan to keep migrants away from and out of the cities was triggered by a recent spate of protests and attacks against African migrants in Israel, particularly in southern Tel Aviv.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who ordered a quick and efficient response to the question of Israel's migrants, was shown the plan for the detention centers in the south last Thursday.

Yet officials say the Ketziot detention center will not be completed in time to incarcerate the migrants whom the Immigration Police have been rounding up as of this week. The facility also will not be large enough to accommodate all the migrants.

The prison facility is initially planned to accommodate some 3,000 inmates. Inmates will stay in shipping containers turned into mobile homes, which "will be structures, for all intents and purposes, not crude shipping containers," a ministry official said.

At a later stage, additional structures will be set up for another 8,000 migrants.

"We want to ensure that all the migrants entering Israel will be placed in the detention center," a Defense Ministry official said. "The plan is intended to reduce people's motivation to come to Israel. They won't be taken to Tel Aviv in a coach but to a compound in the south," he said.

The ministry said it expects to complete the facility's first stage by the end of the year and begin placing migrants there in November.

However, since an estimated 2,000 migrants enter Israel a month, the facility will not be sufficient to hold them all, officials said.

A few days ago, the Defense Ministry said it would erect 20,000-25,000 tents for African migrants at various detention centers by the end of the year. Ministry officials said each migrant will have a 4.5-square-meter space, even in the tents.

The tents are to be set up in five different detention centers over the course of a few months. Once built, the centers will be run by the Prison Service.

The first tent-city will be built on the ruins of an old army base several kilometers south of Ketziot. The site already has a cement foundation suitable for tent floors.

The ministry intends to build another tent city near a permanent detention facility.

Although thousands of people are to live in the tents, no apparent sewage system exists there.

The ministry's engineers, who have been setting up infrastructure systems in the area, had planned to use vaporization pools as a temporary sewage system for thousands of migrants. But now, with tens of thousands of people expected, the government will have to build a sewage treatment plant in the area. This is expected to take many months.

People in the area already suffer from an irregular power supply, some residents told Haaretz. This is expected to be even worse once an additional "city" is erected among the isolated communities.

Ramat Negev Regional Council head Shmuel Rifman said he objects to building the tent cities, which the ramshackle infrastructures in the region - especially the sewage, power and water systems - will not be able to sustain.

"Setting up a tent city simply looks bad. You take people from south Tel Aviv, stick them in tents in the middle of the desert, and now [I'm supposed] to look after them," he said.

"I'm told it's temporary, but in Israel the transient becomes permanent. There is no reason Ramat Negev should take all the failures resulting from years of negligence in dealing with the migrants," Rifman said.

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