Illegal migrants face up to three years in prison under new law
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu approves construction of tents to house illegal immigrants taken into custody • MK Aryeh Eldad: We should shoot anyone who crosses over the border • Migrants' home in Jerusalem torched in suspected arson attack.
The Population, Immigration and Border Authority announced on Sunday that it has begun implementing a law that calls for harsher measures against illegal immigrants and Israelis who assist or employ them. The law, which was approved by the Knesset in January, allows the state to incarcerate illegal immigrants for up to three years without trial.
The authority said it would jail only illegal immigrants who entered the country from this point on. Those arrested will initially be taken to the Saharonim detention center in the Negev, where room for 2,000 more people has been recently made available. Interior Ministry spokeswoman Sabine Haddad told AFP that the order had previously been to jail illegal migrants who entered Israel for 10 days, before then setting them free inside the country.
The move comes as Israel battles to curb a major influx of Africans from across the Egyptian border. According to Interior Ministry statistics, there are some 60,000 African migrants who have entered Israel illegally. During May alone more than 2,000 Africans entered the country, while 8,644 people have crossed the border illegally since the beginning of this year.
During a meeting at the Prime Minister's Office on Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu approved the expedited construction of larger detention centers, which will include tents to house the immigrants. Netanyahu said the move was part of his plan to curb the influx of illegal immigrants to Israel.
At the time the law allowing authorities to detain migrants for up to three years was approved earlier this year, Netanyahu praised it, saying, "This is a welcome and important change. It is essential to our efforts to maintain the character of the State of Israel and to ensure its future as a Jewish and democratic state."
Interior Minister Eli Yishai, who has often tried to expel non-Jewish immigrants, sparking accusations of racism, on Sunday met Eritrean ambassador Tesfamariam Tekeste Debbas "to find joint ways to return infiltrators," Yishai's office said, according to AFP.
Yishai asked the ambassador to convey the message to Eritreans that "Israel cannot be a destination for them, and future infiltrators are liable to find themselves in prison," a statement said.
On Sunday, critics of the new law to jail illegal migrants lashed out against the government, while the representative in Israel of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees said that the Israeli law contradicted Israel's commitments as a signatory to the U.N. treaty on refugees.
The Hotline for Migrant Workers denounced the law in a statement, saying, "The law to prevent illegal immigration is a law that was born in sin. The start of its enforcement is also a dark day for Israel. Instead of investigating each request for immigration and granting refugee status to those who are eligible, as all civilized countries do and as is required by the U.N. Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, to which Israel is also a signatory, the country chooses the mass incarceration of thousands of people, including women and children, whose only sin was to flee murderous, evil regimes. The solution is not only inhumane, it is also inefficient and will not solve anything."
"A country may legislate a law against infiltration, but it cannot implement it against asylum-seekers and refugees," said William Tall, the UNHCR representative in Israel, according to Army Radio. "If Israel begins implementing the law, we will be forced to challenge the government through legal means."
Daniel Solomon, legal adviser to the Immigration and Border Authority, said Sunday, "What Israel is doing today is essentially freezing the status quo in place. It doesn't return these people to their countries of origin, not to Sudan and not to Eritrea. Each person has his or her own story. On the other hand, we understand the implications of investigating each case individually and allowing people to upgrade their status in Israel. The government is responsible for that."
Speaking at a conference of the Academic Center of Law and Business, Solomon explained that Israel simply cannot take the drastic measures the government is calling for. "The government is neither here nor there. It has an obligation not to return these people without knowing the details of their cases, but on the other hand, everyone knows what will happen if we grant them licenses to work here."
Solomon said the government does not examine requests for political asylum made by Eritreans and North Sudanese, who constitute most of the illegal immigrants. This, he said, impedes its ability to determine if they are migrant workers or refugees.
As the government grapples with how to handle the growing influx of migrants illegally crossing the border from Egypt and making their way to Israeli cities, one member of Knesset on Sunday said the only way to stop migrants from entering the country was with bullets.
"I propose that Israel shoots at anyone who tries to cross the border," MK Aryeh Eldad (National Union), a medical doctor, said on Sunday, while on a tour of the border fence being constructed in southern Israel with other lawmakers and army officials. "If the IDF does not have standing orders to shoot to kill illegal immigrants or anyone else who tries to cross the border, the situation will persist and illegal immigrants will continue to arrive. Anyone who touches the fence violates the State of Israel's sovereignty."
Eldad and other members of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee toured southern Israel along Route 12, the site of a terror attack that killed eight Israelis last August, and visited the security fence being constructed along the border. Following a spate of crimes, including rapes, allegedly committed by Africans and several anti-migrant demonstrations that have turned violent, Israel has recently stepped up the pace of construction on the fence, aiming to complete the entire 240 kilometers by September.
"The fence being constructed cannot stop anything, not infiltrators and not terror," Eldad said.
Netanyahu has previously said that the phenomenon of "illegal infiltrators" is "grave and threatens the social fabric of society, our national security and our national identity."
On Sunday, OC Southern Command Maj. Gen. Tal Russo accompanied the Knesset committee members and briefed them about the border fence construction and the challenges the army faces in the area in preventing terrorists and illegal immigrants from crossing into Israel.
During the tour, MK Ronnie Bar-On (Kadima) who chairs the committee, said, "The Egyptians are busy protecting Cairo. Soon the fence will be completed and we hope that instead of thousands of illegal immigrants, the number will be reduced to hundreds, and eventually only a few will make it across."
In addition to Bar-On and Eldad, MKs Ofir Akunis (Likud), Nissim Zeev (Shas), Moshe Matalon (Yisrael Beitenu), Orit Zuaretz (Kadima), Miri Regev (Likud) and Meir Sheetrit (Kadima) also took part in the tour.
Meanwhile, early Sunday, a Jerusalem apartment housing Eritrean immigrants was torched in what police say is a suspected arson attack. Four migrants reportedly suffered from smoke inhalation and minor burns on their hands, and were taken to the Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem.
The assailants, who have yet to be apprehended, scrawled the words "Get out of the neighborhood" on the door. Jerusalem Police have appointed a special team to investigate the incident.
Opposition leader Shelly Yachimovich called the incident "chilling" and said it must be condemned, according to Israel Radio. She said the government had failed to form a coherent, reasonable and humane immigration policy.
Residents told reporters that they lived in fear of the African immigrants, who, they claimed, were frequently drunk and unruly until the early hours of the morning.
The incident also comes in the wake of reports that the Oz Unit (the immigration law enforcement unit of the Interior Ministry) has nearly stopped operating in Jerusalem as all of its forces have been transferred to central Israel in recent months.
"Investigators travel each day to the center and work there rather than in Jerusalem," said Doron Ezra, head of the Oz unit workers' union. "It's only a matter of time before Jerusalem becomes a place of refuge for illegal immigrants."
I think we are being scammed.
The majority of Africans come from three countries, Ivory Coast, South Sudan and Eritrea.
These three countries meet the international criteria, to be considered refugees.
I want an investigation into how these people are getting across Africa from west to east and then through the Sinai.
No body walked from Ivory Coast to Israel.
So how did these people get to Israel?
What is the motive of the people funding the travel of these people and also representing the poor refugees, when they get to that mean Zionist State Israel?
Why make a law to jail people for 3 years. where are we going to put them and who is going to pay to feed them.
UNDERSTAND, JAIL IN ISRAEL IS HEAVEN, COMPARED TO AFRICA.