Rights Groups: Israel Holding Some 1,800 Migrants in Contempt of Court

Petitions urges state to follow High Court order to free migrants immediately, points out that only 33 have been released so far.

Ilan Lior
Ilan Lior
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Ilan Lior
Ilan Lior

Several human rights groups filed a motion Monday to declare the state in contempt of court for failing to immediately release an estimated 1,800 migrants held in Israeli jails, in accordance with a recent High Court of Justice ruling.

The Population, Immigration and Border Authority has released 33 of the detainees so far, authority representatives told the Knesset Committee on Foreign Workers on Monday. The petitioners are asking the court to order the state to release the rest of the migrants immediately.

"The Population and Immigration Authority believes that it can prevent the release of detainees and fulfill its obligation by releasing only a few prisoners, one by one,” the petitioners said in the motion. “This ‘gradual manner’ is tantamount to the continued detainment of most of the detainees and the release of a negligible number relative to the number of people being held.”

The motion was filed by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, Hotline for Migrant Workers, the Refugee Rights Clinic at Tel Aviv University and the Clinic for Migrants’ Rights at the College of Law and Business in Ramat Gan.

The High Court ordered the state six weeks ago to review the cases of migrants held in custody under legislation the court struck down, and release them immediately if there was no additional reason to keep them in custody. The state was granted 90 days to complete the process.

The government plans to move freed detainees to what it calls an "open camp," which they would be allowed to leave during the day but to which they would have to return at night.

Deputy Attorney General Dina Silber said in mid-October that the Interior Ministry would place the detainees in the open camp within the 90 days allotted if construction of the camp is completed by then. She did not specify where the camp will be located.

Silber said 90 days is the upper limit for the release of all detainees, adding that "the individual examination of the cases of all detainees has begun, and has been completed in the case of several infiltrators who have already been released."

African migrants held at Saharonim prison, 2012. Credit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz

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