Israel's Interior Minister Seeks to Extend Grants to Leaving Migrants

Gideon Sa'ar also seeks to expand the Holot detention facility, which he says will be at full capacity in a few months.

Ilan Lior
Ilan Lior
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Protesters at the Holot Detention Center, February 17, 2014.
Protesters at the Holot Detention Center, February 17, 2014.Credit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz
Ilan Lior
Ilan Lior

Interior Minister Gideon Sa’ar seeks a three-month extension for the increased grant given to asylum seekers who leave Israel and aims to expand the new Holot detention facility in the south.

Late last year, the government increased the grant to $3,500 from $1,500 per person, valid until the end of March.

“I lean toward extending the increased monetary incentive by three months because it's effective, and because we haven’t yet reached the number of departures that we can reach,” Sa’ar said at a meeting Wednesday of the Knesset Interior and Environment Committee. He added that since the grant had been increased, the number of asylum seekers leaving Israel had risen sharply.

Sa’ar said that in March, 1,507 asylum seekers had signed up to leave, while 3,966 Africans had left Israel since the beginning of the year. Most of those leaving are Sudanese. “So far, 81 infiltrators have left voluntarily for two third countries, while most departures are for their countries of origin,” he said.

The chairwoman of the Interior and Environment Committee, MK Miri Regev (Likud), held the meeting to mark 100 days since the enactment of the amendment to the Prevention of Infiltration Law, which increased the grant.

Human rights groups boycotted Wednesday’s meeting, calling it an improper attempt to influence the hearing due Tuesday, when the High Court of Justice will consider a petition against the amendment. Regev, in fact, admitted that this was her intention.

“Even before the hearing on the petitions that have been submitted, we want Minister Gideon Sa’ar to tell us about the state of affairs 100 days after the enactment of the Prevention of Infiltration Law,” she said.

Sa’ar, meanwhile, criticized the human rights groups. “They were here when they needed to fight against the legislation,” he said. “But they’re less interested in a report on what’s happening on the ground .... I’m convinced that the High Court of Justice will rule that the law is proportional.”

Sa’ar added that 1,522 asylum seekers from Africa are currently living in the Holot facility. Holot is a so-called open facility – residents are forbidden to work, must remain on the grounds overnight and show up for roll call three times a day.

“The facility is filled at about 50 percent capacity,” Sa’ar said. “My assessment is that at the pace we’re seeing, it will be filled to capacity in a few months.”

Sa’ar also wants to enlarge Holot. “In the near future, we will have turn our attention to expanding Holot, and I intend to talk about that with all the government agencies to prepare for this situation so we can keep reducing the number of infiltrators in downtown urban areas.”

Sa’ar said that over the first three months of the year, citizens of Eritrea and Sudan had submitted 1,118 asylum requests. Citizens of those two countries have submitted a total of 4,800 requests.

“We see that the infiltrators are filing asylum requests at a quicker pace,” he said. “This is a problem to a certain extent. Throughout the world there is usually a time limit regarding when an infiltrator submits a request. Those who were truly refugees would have submitted a request sooner.”

He did not mention that for years until last year, Israel had refused to let Eritrean and Sudanese citizens submit individual asylum requests on the grounds that they had the right to protection as a group and were not being deported from Israel.

Sa’ar did not provide a number, but as far as is known, only three asylum seekers from Eritrea have received refugee status in Israel, while hundreds more have been denied. The state has responded to only a few requests from Sudanese.

Sa’ar added that so far 350 fines had been levied, amounting to roughly 3 million shekels ($860,000), on people who employed asylum seekers who had received orders to stay at Holot. Asylum seekers there are forbidden to work.

“It seems to us that employers hesitate to hire those infiltrators,” Sa'ar said, adding that the law barring asylum seekers from withdrawing funds was not being enforced. He said the police had not answered his requests to provide data on the enforcement of this law, and police at the meeting said they would provide a written response.

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