Following the ruling by the Israeli Supreme Court which deemed that previous amendments to the controversial Prevention of Infiltration Act allowing the detention of asylum seekers for up to three years without charge was unconstitutional and a violation of Article 5 of the Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty, a new amendment reduces the length of detention from three years to one year. However, the amendment now also allows people who cannot be refouled to be held indefinitely in open facilities. The centre, called Holot, has a current capacity for 3,300 people and is located in the Negev desert, an hour a half drive from the closest town. A mandatory roll call is enforced three times a day and those who are not present risk being arrested and sent to closed detention centres. The Israeli government maintains that the new facilities are not jails as the detainees are allowed to leave twice a day for a few hours.

This week around 200 migrants and asylum seekers left one of the open detention centres and marched to the Israeli Parliament to protest against the new law, demanding to have their asylum applications considered and to be allowed to move freely without major restrictions while their claim is being considered, in accordance with their human rights. Most of the migrants demonstrating had already been imprisoned for one to two years before their transfer to the new centre. The 200 migrants were forcibly removed and will reportedly now be jailed for three months before being returned to detention.

The Prevention of Infiltration Act 1954 allows the Israeli authorities to have discretion to prosecute an individual for the crime of ‘infiltration’ even if the subject has requested asylum. The Israeli government said the law “creates a suitable balance between the right of the State of Israel to defend its borders and prevent infiltration, and its obligation to act in a humanitarian manner toward anyone within its borders and protect the human rights due to every person”.

92 per cent of Israel’s asylum seekers are from Eritrea and Sudan. While Israel recognises that nationals from both these countries cannot be removed, the new amendment nevertheless allows the indefinite detention of people who cannot be returned to their home countries.


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This article originally appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin of 20 December 2013
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