Israel to Detain African 'Infiltrators' in Tent City, Rather Than Buildings as Planned

Latest resolution provides for erection of tents to hold a total of 5,600 detainees in Negev; Defense Ministry says however the provision is for 'emergency use only.’

Gili Cohen
Gili Cohen
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Gili Cohen
Gili Cohen

The Israeli cabinet has approved a plan to erect tents in a Negev detention facility for unauthorized African migrants, instead of the permanent buildings that had been planned.

The decision was published in the government record on July 25, as a terse notice reporting the cabinet’s approval for the national master plan of a “detention and handling center for infiltrators.”

The original cabinet resolution would have established what has been termed the world’s largest detention facility, with a capacity of 11,000, for African migrants. Shipping containers adapted for residential use, with air conditioners and bathrooms, have been placed on the site. The converted cargo containers are intended to house up to 3,000 people. The latest cabinet resolution provides for the erection of tents, to hold a total of 5,600 detainees, on four sites on which conventional structures had been planned.

According to the explanation in the amendment to the resolution, the tents are necessary to enable “immediate occupancy” of the facility. But more than a year after work began on the facility, the permanent housing in the camp remains vacant.

Defense Ministry officials say the tents are meant for emergency use only.

The Social Affairs Ministry slammed earlier plans to house African migrants in tents. In October, Haaretz reported on an internal ministry document opposing the plan. Ministry officials argued that these living conditions would be “unreasonable” and noted that when the plan was drafted large numbers of Africans were crossing into Israel illegally from Sinai, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sought to provide “living solutions for infiltrators as fast as possible for as many people as possible.”

The Defense Ministry began building a “tent city” for the migrants, meant to go up in record time and costing tens of millions of shekels.

But while the “tent city” was dismantled after about a year, work on the detention camp near Ketziot continues. But last year there was a steady decline in the number of African migrants entering Israel illegally. According to figures from the Southern Command of the Israel Defense Forces, in June only five migrants crossed the border from Sinai.

The original plan called for populating the detention camp before building public services such as kindergartens, clinics and prayer facilities. After the Social Affairs Ministry raised objections, it was decided to establish the public services before bringing in detainees - but in tents, at least temporarily. In addition, it was decided that occupancy could precede the construction of a sewage treatment facility.

In a response, the Defense Ministry noted that the national master plan calls for building a new sewage treatment plant for the Ramat Hanegev Regional Council, to which the detention camps in the area would be connected. In addition, the ministry said it “does not intend to execute the rest of the plan’s details, which relate to the option of building tents instead of the planned buildings. These details remain in the plan, which was approved by the government, only in case of emergency.”

Detention center in the Negev for unauthorized African migrants.Credit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz

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