Israel Seeks to Build Tent Camp for African Migrants With No Sewage or Proper Facilities

Defense Ministry looks to exempt construction of refugee camps in southern Israel from almost all planning regulations; national planning body to discuss proposal on Tuesday.

Gili Cohen
Gili Cohen
African migrants in Israel's Saharonim detention facility.
African migrants in Israel's Saharonim detention facility. Credit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz
Gili Cohen
Gili Cohen

The National Building and Planning Council will consider exempting the construction of refugee camps in the south from almost all planning regulations on Tuesday. The Defense Ministry has asked the council to exempt the Israel Defense Forces and the ministry's construction division from approval by the local authority and its construction committee engineer.

The ministry says the move, together with other proposed changes in the plans for the camps, are intended "to meet the tight schedule to implement the cabinet's decision" to build the camp for African refugees crossing the Egyptian border into Israel.

But the Bimkom planning rights group says the exemption and changes would create "a huge camp with harsh conditions. The changes would enable the imprisonment of thousands of people in tents for three years or more, in difficult physical conditions and extreme climate conditions."

Anti-immigrant protest in Tel Aviv last month.

The Building and Planning Council will also consider significant changes in the national master plan - which does not allow for placing migrants in tents - to enable the internment of African migrants in the encampments immediately.

"There's no time for a planning procedure for the tents," a defense official said. "Due to the required speed, the only thing we'll do is put up tents instead of buildings. In the future the objective is to house them in buildings."

The ministry proposes putting off the construction of public buildings required by the master plan such as classrooms, dining rooms, hair-cutting shops and cantines due to the urgency of populating the facility.

The original master plan consists of one absorption center for all the African migrants in the tent cities, including clinics and offices for interviewing and questioning them. The ministry proposes changing the facility's purpose to enable setting up the absorption center in another compound, probably in September.

The master plan stipulates that due to the sewage problems in the area, only 6,000 people may be interned in the detention center. The sewage was to be treated in the Ketziot oxidation pools. Now the ministry proposes allocating an area for a regional sewage treatment facility near the oxidation pools, which could take several years to build. Consequently, the migrants' detention centers will be populated long before a proper sewage system is up and running.

The ministry is planning to set up tents for some 5,000 migrants in the first compound, an area designated for migrants in the master plan. In another compound, within the Ketziot military base, the ministry will build a tent infrastructure to accommodate some 4,000 people.

However, ministry sources said the Ketziot area was approved as a military facility, therefore may not be converted to a migrant detention facility or for any other use.

The council will therefore ask to change the master plan to allow for "suitable living conditions and proper planning solutions and physical infrastructures to meet with all the requirements."

The ministry's proposal calls for examining hooking up the sewage in the compound to a treatment plant and providing temporary sewage solutions in the meantime, to enable interning the migrants immediately.

The ministry said: "The proposed plan is based on the master plan the council and cabinet approved at the beginning of the year. Contrary to your claim, no significant changes were made in the proposed plan. ... The plan includes an advanced sewage treatment facility. ... The detention centers are an immediate need which may not be delayed. ... The ministry is acting on the prime minister's instructions to complete the emergency plan as scheduled and within the law."



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