Government Approves Limiting Detention of Asylum Seekers to One Year

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African asylum seekers at the Holot detention facility protest the expulsion from Israel of others, February 17, 2014.Credit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz

The government unanimously approved Sunday a proposal by Interior Minister Arye Dery to limit the term asylum seekers can spend in the Holot detention facility to one year so the Knesset can pass a new amendment more likely to get past the High Court of Justice. The court has already struck down previous legislation on the issue three times.

In a statement, Dery said his proposal was based on an agreement reached by former Interior Minister Silvan Shalom with Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked and Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein.

In August the High Court of Justice ruled that keeping asylum seekers in Holot for 20 months was disproportionate and ordered the Knesset to reduce the time significantly by February 10. If the government does not amend the Anti-Infiltration Law by then, the state will have to shut down Holot.

It is expected to come up for its first reading in the Knesset today, and then go to the Knesset Interior and Environment Committee for processing before it returns to the plenum for its second and third readings.

Dery has also frozen other changes to the law that had been proposed by his predecessor, Silvan Shalom, so that the amendment can be passed quickly. 

The new bill’s explanatory notes say, “Setting a maximum stay of 12 months is in keeping with the court’s ruling and matches the constitutional standard the court adopted in its ruling about the interim period [of detention]. The suggested term undermines the dignity and freedom of the infiltrator to a lesser extent.”

In November the Interior Ministry published a memorandum that included a series of proposed changes to the Anti-Infiltration Law. It stated that asylum seekers would be sent to Holot for a year, but the interior minister could extend stays to up to 18 months “for special reasons.” Similarly, it proposed that asylum seekers who enter Israel after the law passes could be held in Holot for 18 months, even though the High Court of Justice had made clear that a year was the most it could accept.

The memorandum also cancelled the ban on summoning fathers of minors to Holot and intensified the punishments that Population and Immigration Authority officials could mete out for being absent from Holot. Another clause in the memorandum attempted to restrict legal proceedings, stating that restraining orders to freeze a summons to Holot could not be issued. Weinstein objected to all these changes, warning that if they were included the amendment would be struck down by the High Court of Justice for the fourth time.

Dery made it clear Sunday that he was not abandoning these proposals and that he might bring a broader amendment for the cabinet’s approval in the future. “Minister Dery said he plans to thoroughly study the other issues and will then distribute an appropriate memorandum,” his office’s statement said. “During the cabinet debate, Dery said he views infiltrators seeking work as a serious problem, particularly for the weaker classes, because they operate primarily in south Tel Aviv and other distressed neighborhoods.”

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