Law Letting Israel Impose Restrictions on Asylum Seekers Expires, in Win for Left-wing Ministers

Coalition members from Labor and Meretz shoot down vote on extending legislation increasing penalties on asylum seekers

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A protester against deportation of African asylum seekers in Tel Aviv, 2018.
A protester against deportation of African asylum seekers in Tel Aviv, 2018.Credit: Moti Milrod

A temporary order allowing Israel to impose restrictions on asylum seekers in the country is set to expire on Thursday, and will not be renewed because of objections from the government’s left-wing parties.

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This amendment to the Prevention of Infiltration Law of 1954, passed a year ago as an emergency order, was intended to increase penalties on foreigners who entered the country without a permit and cannot be repatriated. The vast majority of this group are Eritrean and Sudanese, and the legislation was meant to discourage more from seeking asylum in Israel.

Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked requested that the order be extended by four years, a proposal that was supposed to go to a Knesset vote on Monday. A meeting of coalition party leaders resulted in a decision to back off from the vote, as the Labor and Meretz parties opposed extending the order.

Sources from the two left-wing coalition parties said there is no need to renew it, mainly because of the border fence erected on the Egyptian border, which prevents the entry of more asylum seekers. The Labor and Meretz representatives in the Ministerial Committee on Legislation – Diaspora Minister Nachman Shai and Environmental Protection Minister Tamar Zandberg – already voted against the proposed extension in the committee two weeks ago. Lawmaker Ram Shefa, who is chair of the Labor Party caucus, told Haaretz that his party would not vote for the extension as long as no in-depth debate is held on it.

Over the years, the High Court of Justice has struck down several pieces of legislation intended to levy tougher sanctions on foreigners who entered the country without a permit. In October, however, the Supreme Court ruled that the interior minister may restrict asylum seekers from working in certain geographical areas, an official authorization that has rarely been implemented.

Such limitations have thus far only been imposed on asylum seekers who have been released from the Holot detention center, and have not been used since the facility was shut down in 2018. The Supreme Court’s decision paved the way for the interior minister to impose restrictions on other populations. The temporary order backed by Shaked was intended to increase enforcement and punishment for those who employ foreigners with temporary visas in Israel.

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