Judge Orders 20 African Infiltrators Released From Jail

The release of some 20 jailed infiltrators from Eritrea and the Ivory Coast has been ordered by Elad Azar, head of the Custody Tribunal, over the last two days. The ruling pulls the rug out from under the state's plan to keep the infiltrators in camps.

Azar was sharply critical of the authorities for keeping the infiltrators in Ketziot Prison beyond the 14-day limit without judicial oversight, saying it impaired "the basic principle of respect for human rights and constituted a failure by the state authorities." In earlier rulings, he said that he would also order the release of Sudanese families.

The state has held all infiltrators in detention for weeks under the Law to Prevent Infiltration, a harsh piece of emergency legislation that requires no judicial oversight of detentions. In so doing, it contravened its pledge to the High Court of Justice that every detainee arrested under this law would be brought before an adjudicator who is a special advisor to the defense minister. This position is now held by Azar.

The Hotline for Migrant Workers and Tel Aviv University's program for refugee rights submitted a number of petitions to the High Court against the arrests. The state responded on Thursday by changing the charge against all non-Sudanese refugees to breaking the Entry to Israel Law, after which it began bringing them before the Custody Tribunal. Most of the detainees, however, were first incarcerated about a month ago.

"On my way to the detention facility this morning, I passed groups of infiltrators from Africa who had been released an hour before because there was no space for them," Azar wrote. "The question is whether the fate of an infiltrator - whether [he ends up] in Ketziot or inside Israel - should be decided by a completely arbitrary fact, namely whether the Prisons Service can accommodate him on a given day."

Azar delayed the release until Sunday to allow the Interior Ministry to appeal the decision, but ordered that the detainees be represented by a human rights organization or private attorney. He also limited the release to 60 days; it is unclear what is to happen at the end of this period.

The Interior Ministry responded that it is "considering its moves."

Meanwhile, the Education Ministry plans to operate six educational frameworks for 74 Sudanese children ages three to 12 this year. By law, the ministry must see to the education of every child who is in Israel for three consecutive months, regardless of the child's legal status or that of his parents.

Amira Haim, director of the ministry's southern district, where the classes are to open, said the children will study for 29 hours a week, with lessons in Hebrew, arithmetic and English for the older students. In Arad, the classes will be held in a public school, but in Eilat, they will be in a separate facility in one of the hotels where the parents are employed.

Eilat Mayor Meir Yitzhak Halevy has said that he would not take care of the Sudanese refugees.