Dery: If Court Won't Allow Deportation of Asylum Seekers, Israel Will Build Second Detention Center

Interior minister also acknowledges delay in processing over 10,000 waiting asylum requests, and says that nation-wide biometric database is necessary.

File photo: Two asylum seekers walk past a fence at the Holot detention facility in the Negev.
Eliyahu Hershkovitz

Interior Minister Arye Dery says that if the High Court won’t allow the state to deport asylum seekers to third countries, Israel will have to construct an additional detention facility.

“It will be an effective tool,” Dery told the Knesset Interior and Environment Committee, referring to deporting asylum seekers to Uganda and Rwanda, without referring to those countries by name. “If not, the Holot facility will not suffice. We will have to build another big facility with infrastructure. It’s a very big expense. I prefer not to go there. I prefer to carry out agreements we have with third countries in an orderly fashion.”

MK Michal Rozin (Meretz), a former chair of the Committee on Foreign Workers, demanded that Dery respond to comments by Dina Zilber, the deputy attorney general, that Haaretz published Wednesday morning. Zilber stated that the state was negligent in its duty to process asylum requests by Eritrean and Sudanese asylum seekers.

“The pace of checking requests of who is a refugee and who is not a refugee does not meet the state’s commitment to the High Court of Justice,” she said. “The whole argument is over whether we are talking about refugees or labor migrants, so it is important to do the checks.”

According to the Population and Immigration Authority, more than 10,000 asylum requests are awaiting a response. The state only examined 900 requests last year and approved only two of those.

Dery responded that he decided to appoint attorney Zion Amir, a criminal lawyer, as chairman of the advisory committee to the interior minister on refugee affairs. The committee has not met in eight months since the departure of the former chairman, Avi Himi.

“It’s true there has not been a chairman for many months, but I know what has been laid on our table and so I am considering establishing another committee. There is enormous bureaucracy there, and we need to overcome this delay,” he said.

After the meeting, Dery told Haaretz that he intends to establish another refugee committee with identical responsibilities to ramp up the pace of examining asylum requests. Human rights groups are expected to protest the appointment of Amir, one of the best and busiest criminal attorneys in the country. After Himi’s departure, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel demanded that his replacement be made via a public tender and that it be someone with broad knowledge of refugee laws.

Dery also discussed the country-wide biometric database during the meeting. He said that he has reached the conclusion that the database is necessary but he has yet to announce which data would be included. Therefore, he said, he was asking to extend the pilot program by nine months. The overwhelming majority of professionals with whom he had consulted support the database, noted Dery.

“The argument now is which kind of database — is it a database that suffices with headshots or a database that also requires fingerprints,” he said.

The Knesset will soon be required to approve his request to extend the pilot project, which was supposed to end this month, until the end of 2016.

“No one intends to be Big Brother,” said Dery. “The police have a very great need to save lives and fight terror or crime. They have a very clear stance, as do the security forces. I heard them out in a long discussion.” The database currently contains the headshots and fingerprints of 900,000 people.

“The database is the best kept one in the world, I think,” said Dery. “It is impervious to a cyber attack. You could break it physically by sending an elite unit and seizing the place.”

Like his predecessors, Dery also said that he attaches great importance in improving services in the population registry offices. “Improving services is chief among our goals,” he said. “We want to reach the place where the big offices will be open every day until eveningtime. We have the equipment. We have the personnel. We have to utilize the offices as much as possible. We are going to enlarge them.” Dery noted that new offices would soon open in Sakhnin and the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Har Homa.

“I see this as my first priority among all issues at the Interior Ministry," stressed Dery, who has been on the job less than two months.

Dery also said he was eliminating certain ad hoc committees related to local government because the system had become too cumbersome. He would instead establish seven or eight permanent committees based on geography in the coming months, which would provide more transparency.

A confrontation broke out when Dery discussed the issue of home demolitions in Arab towns. He said that there are 50,000 illegal homes in the Arab community, but “in practice, the ministry demolishes very few homes.” MK Taleb Abu Arar (Joint Arab List) shot back, “A thousand homes in the Negev a year are a few?”