Tribunal Upholds Ban on Migrants Settling in Tel Aviv or Eilat

The ruling by a special appellate tribunal applies to asylum seekers who are released from the Holot detention center in the south

The Holot detention center, in a 2015 photo.
Ilan Assayag

Ilan Lior

A special tribunal that hears appeals from foreign asylum seekers recently upheld the governments policy of barring the migrants from living or working in Tel Aviv or Eilat after they are released from the detention facility for asylum seekers at Holot in the south. The judge in the case ruled that the restriction was a legal and proportionate way of preventing them from settling in Israeli cities.

Imposing geographic restrictions as a condition of the residency permit given a foreign national, even if he is an asylum seeker, doesnt violate international commitments and is a proportionate government means of achieving the legislative end of preventing infiltrators from settling in major cities, Judge Bafi Tam wrote in her decision in rejecting one asylum seekers request for permission to live in Tel Aviv.

The restriction took effect about two years ago, a few days after the High Court of Justice upheld a law enabling asylum seekers to be sent to Holot, after having struck down two earlier versions of the policy. The restriction was the result of a decision by the interior minister at the time, Silvan Shalom, that all asylum seekers released from Holot after a maximum one-year stay would be issued residency documents barring them from living or working in Tel Aviv or Eilat. Holot is deemed an open facility, because residents are free to leave, but they must report for roll call at regular designated times.

The restrictions imposed on the Holot detainees on their release have forced many asylum seekers who had lived and worked in Tel Aviv or Eilat before being sent to Holot to find new homes and jobs in unfamiliar towns. One case considered by Tam involved a resident of Sudans Darfur region who was released from Holot two years ago and wanted to return to Tel Aviv. He said his livelihood depended on it, since he had started a business selling phones in the city. But the Interior Ministrys Population and Immigration Authority rejected his request. Another case involved a Sudanese national who argued that banning him from Tel Aviv would isolate him, keeping him out of the job market and discriminating against him compared to other asylum seekers. After the Population and Immigration Authority rejected his request, he returned to Tel Aviv anyway, and was later caught and jailed for violating the terms of his release.

Tam said the geographic restriction is in accordance with current policy and is a supplemental tool for implementing it. She noted that in 2009, the Interior Ministry had scrapped a rule barring asylum seekers from living anywhere between Gedera and Hadera, the central region of the country extending north and south of Tel Aviv, but Tam said this doesnt prevent it from implementing a similar policy, in line with its judgment and the needs of the moment.

Attorney Tomer Warsha, who represented one of the asylum seekers covered by the ruling, noted that in another, similar case before a different appellate tribunal in Beer Sheva, the Population Authority had admitted that the geographic restriction doesnt appear in any written regulation.

The tribunal made a serious mistake by approving the Interior Ministrys conduct, he claimed. Its inconceivable that the interior minister should say something to the media, and that this should be considered an official decision in every respect. An official decision must be made after collecting and evaluating data and publishing a detailed decision. And this flaw is compounded when it entails depriving thousands of people of freedom and undermining their freedom of occupation.