Migrants Freed From Detention Are Banned From Tel Aviv and Eilat

Aid groups say the state's failure to evaluate and release all those detained puts it in contempt of court.

Ilan Lior
Ilan Lior
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Ilan Lior
Ilan Lior

Migrants freed from detention facilities in accordance with a High Court of Justice ruling in September are being banned from living or working in either Tel Aviv or Eilat. They are also being issued visas stating that legal action will be taken against anyone in those two cities who employs them.

This restriction aims to prevent the migrants from settling in areas that already have high concentrations of migrants from places like Eritrea and Sudan, similar to the “Gedera to Hadera” regulation that at one point forbade migrants from living in the central region, but was cancelled in 2009 by then-Interior Minister Eli Yishai.

Visas issued to African migrants in recent years have always stated that “this is a temporary permit and is not a work permit.” However, three years ago, the state told the High Court of Justice that it would not enforce the ban on migrants working nor take any action against their employers, acknowledging that letting them work made it less likely they would turn to crime to support themselves.

This is the first time since that commitment was made that the state has placed any restrictions on the employment of African migrants. The government made no announcement of this change in policy, and it was discovered only upon the issuance of the new visas.

This policy comes on top of efforts to limit the migrants’ ability to start their own businesses. A Justice Ministry announcement on Monday reiterated a previous ruling by Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein that migrants with temporary visas - which accounts for the bulk of the migrants in the country - are not permitted to open businesses. Mondays announcement expressed displeasure that Weinstein's order was not being enforced.

“Although we’re dealing with complex problems, the rule of law does not allow for a situation in which an order by the attorney-general is not enforced by law enforcement officials,” the statement said. “Therefore, the attorney-general has directed the Israel Police to use all the means at its disposal to enforce the order and pursue legal action against infiltrators who open businesses without a permit.”

Meanwhile, seven weeks after the High Court struck down the amendment to the Anti-Infiltration Law that allowed for the jailing of migrants without trial and ordered them released, the state has reviewed the cases of only 330 of the 1,700 held in custody. In response to claims by human rights groups that the state was in contempt of court, the state told the High Court on Monday that it is, in fact, implementing the ruling, and has so far released 143 migrants, 103 of them women.

Nevertheless, the Population, Immigration and Border Authority has yet to evaluate the vast majority of the detainees, and aid groups are accusing the state of deliberate foot-dragging. Rights groups say the state is trying to buy time to revamp its legislation on the issue and to prepare the Sadot open detention facility by the mid-December deadline set by the court. The intention seems to be to transfer the migrants directly to the Sadot facility, when it is ready.

In addition to the 143 people released, the state has examined the files of 187 migrants who might be subject to deportation. “All these infiltrators are given hearings, but because they are not cooperating with the procedure they have been issued restraining and custody orders in accordance with the Law of Entry to Israel,” the state told the High Court.

A third group being evaluated is those migrants who’ve been allegedly involved in crimes. According to the state, this group totals 256 migrants, 21 of whose cases have already been examined. It wasn’t clear if any members of this group had been released. The state also noted that 22 migrants had either been deported or left voluntarily since the High Court ruling.

The state also said that an interministerial team was examining alternative legislation to replace the amendment struck down by the court.

Attorney Oded Feller, who handles immigration and status issues for the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, said the state’s response demonstrates that it is not complying with the court ruling.

“The state is evaluating only those who can be deported or those suspected of crimes,' he said. "It is not evaluating the majority of the detainees, who are Eritreans and Sudanese who cannot be deported [because they face danger in their countries of origin], who do not pose any risk and who present no grounds for holding them. The aim is to avoid releasing most of the detainees, so they can be moved to a different facility.”

A migrant held at the Saharonim detention facility in the Negev.Credit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz

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