New Amendment to ‘Anti-infiltration’ Law Goes Before Knesset

Proposal would limit detention of asylum seekers at Holot to 20 months, cut reporting requirement to once a day.

Ilan Lior
Ilan Lior
Asylum seekers wait outside Saharonim prison for the bus to take them to the Holot facility.
Asylum seekers wait outside Saharonim prison for the bus to take them to the Holot facility. Credit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz
Ilan Lior
Ilan Lior

The Knesset on Monday is expected to pass the first reading of an amendment to the controversial “anti-infiltration” law, whose previous amendment was struck down by the High Court of Justice for violating “human rights in an essential, deep and fundamental way.”

The amendment will next go to the Knesset Interior and Environment Committee for a series of marathon discussions, beginning tomorrow morning, ahead of its second and third readings within a few days.

The new amendment limits to 20 months the period that asylum seekers can be held at the Holot detention facility in the Negev, and reduces the obligation to report there from three times a day to once. The previous amendment, which the High Court overturned last September, did not limit the time of detention at Holot.

The new amendment would also shorten the period of imprisonment for new asylum seekers entering Israel from one year to three months. Afterward, they would be transferred from Saharonim Prison to Holot.

The Ministerial Committee for Legislation approved the bill on Sunday, paving the way for its continued passage.

The time pressure is due to the fact that the High Court gave the state 90 days to formulate a new legislative arrangement. If the new amendment is not approved by December 22, the state will be obligated to close the Holot facility and release the 2,300 or so asylum seekers from Eritrea and Sudan being held there.

The amendment is likely to undergo changes during discussions in the interior committee. For example, Interior Minister Gilad Erdan would like to extend the period of imprisonment in Saharonim for new asylum seekers from three months to at least six months, a proposal which Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein opposes.

Weinstein also made clear that he will not support the bill and will retain the right not to defend it in court if it includes significant further limitations on the freedom of asylum seekers.

Erdan said, “I am determined to provide a solution to the problem of illegal infiltration. It is our duty to offer solutions for the distress of the residents of south Tel Aviv and to preserve the Jewish identity of the State of Israel, while abiding by the ruling of the High Court as required.”

Human rights organizations distributed a letter at the end of last week to cabinet members, calling on them to oppose the new amendment to the law. According to the organizations, the draft bill contradicts the High Court ruling, is unconstitutional and will worsen the distress in south Tel Aviv.

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