Cabinet Paves Way for Shortened Detention Without Trial of African Migrants

Amendment cuts detention from three years to one but is decried as violating human rights.

Ilan Lior
Ilan Lior
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Ilan Lior
Ilan Lior

The cabinet approved an amendment to the Infiltration Law on Sunday that would shorten the length of time that illegal migrants from Africa can be held without trial, from three years to one.

The amendment, which also mandates a detention center for the migrants that would be locked down only at night, is subject to Knesset approval and will be brought before legislators this week.

“I intend to move the legislative proceedings quickly, to give the State of Israel the tools necessary to fight illegal infiltration into its territory,” Interior Minister Gideon Sa’ar said during a Knesset committee discussion of the amendment last week.

In mid-September the High Court of Justice overturned an amendment allowing the incarceration of asylum seekers from Africa for up to three years, saying the law was unconstitutional because it disproportionately impinged on a person’s right to liberty. The court gave the state 90 days to examine the cases of all those incarcerated under the provisions of this law.

“This legislative amendment is meant to create a more balanced arrangement that will constitute a more proportionate means and will thus meet the constitutional standards set in the ruling,” states the bill's preamble, written after the High Court ruling. “This bill thus creates a suitable balance between the right of the State of Israel to defend its borders and prevent infiltration, and its obligation to act in a humanitarian manner toward anyone within its borders and protect the human rights due to every person.”

Though the government is touting the law as protecting human rights, it has been harshly criticized by human rights advocates.

“The architects of the Law to Prevent Infiltration, which was overturned by nine justices of the High Court of Justice, have not learned anything,” wrote Oded Feller in a response on behalf of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, Hotline for Migrant Workers and Assaf, an aid organization for refugees and asylum seekers in Israel.

“They have returned and come up with an arrangement for imprisonment that is even more severe and draconian than that which preceded it, and again it is a ‘temporary injunction,’ which means, as it appears once again, that there is nothing more permanent,” wrote Feller, a lawyer for ACRI.

If the Knesset approves the amendment, it will be in effect for three years. It will be classified as a temporary injunction, though such orders are often renewed when they expire.

Under the amendment, Israel will detain in a closed detention center only those migrants who enter the country after the law goes into effect. However, the amendment also states that even migrants who are already in Israel can be placed in the open detention center that will be run by the Israel Prison Service in Sadot, near Ketziot Prison.

The facility can fit 3,300 people and has the capacity for expansion. The detainees will be banned from working, except for work within the center itself, and the state will provide them with an allowance, room and board, and health care. Though the center will be open during the day, the detainees will have to show up for an attendance check three times a day to prove they are not working outside the facility, and will be locked in at night.

The Saharonim prison facility near Ketziot, built to hold infiltrators.Credit: Eliyahu Hershkowitz

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