Israel Set to Start Work on Detention Center for Up to 8,000 Refugees

Construction on 250-acre facility to commence in two weeks; refugees would live at center for up to three years.

In two weeks, Israel will finally start building the world's largest detention center for asylum seekers. The facility will go up in the Negev sand dunes on 1,000 dunams (250 acres) at the Ketziot prison.

"We're not building a prison, but ultimately it's a detention facility, not a resort site or a hotel," a senior defense official said. "It's not really a prison, though. They can walk around, they have 4.5 meters in their rooms. The organized public space is pretty huge. You don't get that in a prison."

Negev detention center
Thomas Leitersdorf Architects

At the first stage, the facility for up to 8,000 inmates will consist of 12 wings, each designed to house 280 refugees. Each wing will have two dining rooms, a toilet-and-shower compound, a laundry and places to study. The Defense Ministry also plans to build a library and a club.

The ministry intends to issue a tender for the construction of the refugees' rooms next week. The contractors' proposals will determine whether four, seven or eight refugees will be housed in each room. Each refugee would live at the center for up to three years.

According to the plan, each room must have a window or two, beds, lockers, an electric socket and accessibility to toilets by day and night.

"Nowhere in the world is so much space allotted per inmate," the senior defense official said, referring to the 4.5 square meters.

"We'll do all it takes to provide reasonably humane conditions. We all wish we didn't have to build such a facility. But we're in a certain situation due to certain circumstances, and we need a facility to address these needs," he said.

"It will have trees, flowers and bushes. We understand human beings have to stay there .... The ministry thinks it's important to have vegetation there so the inmates don't get a feeling they're surrounded by iron bars."

The center will also include computer facilities, sports and religious facilities, conference halls, women's and well-baby clinics, playgrounds and workshops.

The facility will have hundreds of gates along its fences, though each wing and room will be able to be locked down.

The ministry has yet to decide whether to allocate separate family areas. It has also not decided what to do about sick people who must be isolated, such as tuberculosis patients.