Israeli Government Passes Law to Detain Asylum Seekers for One Year

Migrants illegally entering Israel previously faced 20 months in Holot detention facility.

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

The government passed the fourth version of the amendment to the so-called “anti-infiltration law” on Monday, after previous versions were struck down by the High Court of Justice. The new version limits to one year the term that asylum seekers can be detained in the Holot detention facility.

The previous version, which the High Court invalidated last August, allowed migrants who entered the country illegally to be held there for up to 20 months.

Until recently, the fourth version of the coalition-backed bill gave the interior minister the discretion to extend an asylum seeker’s term in Holot by a further six months, to 18 months. But late last month, new Interior Minister Arye Dery decided to eliminate this clause and other proposed restrictions, so the only difference between this version and the previous one is the maximum term of detention.

The opposition didn’t put up much of a fight against the bill and it passed with a comfortable majority, 55-32.

Members of Yesh Atid and Zionist Union led objections to the bill. MK Revital Swid (Zionist Union) asked during the debate, “Why are we investing so much energy in a law instead of dealing with the real issue – what to do about the residents of the south Tel Aviv neighborhoods. How we can improve their lives, which have become a never-ending nightmare?”

Swid added that the government was making no investment in these neighborhoods, where large numbers of asylum seekers have settled.

According to MK Yael German (Yesh Atid), “This bill won’t turn south Tel Aviv into a place where it will be nice to live. It won’t remove the refugees and give them a livelihood that might lead them to leave south Tel Aviv.”

German stressed that the bill relates to “people who have done nothing that’s against the law, and who cannot be sent back to their countries of origin because their lives are in danger there. What do we expect from these refugees? That they shouldn’t sleep? That they shouldn’t eat? That they shouldn’t work? The government is turning its back on the call to find a humane solution.”

MK Michal Rozin ( Meretz) said, “Government representatives abroad present the rulings of the High Court on asylum seekers as a reflection of Israeli democracy and are proud that the court invalidates laws that are not constitutional and is defending the rights of minority refugees. With one hand the government criticizes the High Court, and on the other it uses it throughout the world to show how we are such a properly run country.

“Unfortunately, the policy of abuse of asylum seekers continues in the State of Israel,” she continued. “We are once again ignoring the essence of what the High Court was telling us.”