Israeli Ministry Slams 'Unreasonable' Conditions at New Detention Facility for African Migrants

Social Affairs Ministry objects to the Defense Ministry's request to use tents instead of permanent buildings for half the living quarters at the camp.

Gili Cohen
Gili Cohen
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Gili Cohen
Gili Cohen

Living conditions in a detention facility for African asylum seekers now under construction in the Negev Desert will be "unreasonable," the Social Affairs Ministry has warned.

In an internal ministry document recently presented to the National Planning and Building Council, the ministry objected to the Defense Ministry's request to use tents instead of permanent buildings for half the living quarters at the camp, which is being built as part of a government plan to encourage asylum seekers to leave Israel.

The Social Affairs Ministry also criticized the plan to start populating the camp with families and other asylum seekers before all the communal facilities, such as an infirmary, are completed. In addition, it objected the plan to use each structure to house up to 20 refugees, instead of six as the ministry recommends.

The document was prepared as a response to the Defense Ministry's request for changes in the plan of the facility near Ketziot, close to the Egyptian border. "Some of these changes could significantly affect the living conditions in the center and the people and their behavior," stated the document.

The document accused the Defense Ministry of rushing to establish and populate the detention center before appropriate conditions exist, and without examining the effects of such conditions on the refugees. The effect of living in tents in arid desert conditions over the entire year has not been studied, the ministry stated. This is particularly important as asylum seekers could be held for up to two and a half years - or even more - at the facility.

The issue of having so many people living in one residential unit was also not examined, stated the ministry in the document to the planning authorities. The plans do not actually set a limit on the number of people per living unit but they do detail the amount of space to be allocated to each person. The technical appendices add that the units are intended for up to six residents, as the Social Affairs Ministry recommends. But the permanent housing units that have already been set up at the facility are converted cargo containers, which will hold up to 20 people each. This could lead to violence, stated the ministry.

"It is clear to everyone that these conditions are unreasonable and it is impossible to relate to them as 'proper living conditions,' as the national [planning] council has ordered," stated the document.

The Defense Ministry had asked for changes to be made to the plan in an attempt to speed up construction.

The facility is meant to be occupied by illegal African migrants whom the state is not allowed to deport and who are expected to remain in the facility for a long time, certainly years.

In the first stage, there will be room for 3,000 people, and the facility may be expanded to 11,000 in the future. The permanent residential units, which are presently under construction, have air conditioners and are insulated against the desert conditions. Alongside the units, contractors are also building protected rooms against rocket attacks, as required by the national building code. The Social Affairs Ministry is not concerned about these units, unless they are overcrowded, but about temporary structures and tents, which the Defense Ministry may be forced to use to keep to its tight schedule.

Finally, the ministry objected to people being placed in the facility before communal structures are finished, despite pressure to start populating the camp. The Defense Ministry requested a three-month postponement in the construction of the communal buildings. The original plan required that at least eight percent of the inmates be kept employed in various ways at any time, such as in many of the communal buildings, including classrooms and places for religious worship. If these buildings are not finished on time, this target may not be met.

A tent town being built to hold African migrants in the Negev.Credit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz
African migrants stand in line to receive food at Levinsky park in south Tel Aviv, June 13, 2012.Credit: Reuters

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