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Israeli Government Responds to High Court Ruling

On September 22, the High Court of Justice voided the 4th amendment to the Anti-Infiltration Law (read a partial summary of the ruling in English). A year ago, the Knesset passed the 4th amendment to the Anti-Infiltration Law that mandated a one-year detention period in prison for those who entered Israel and also established the open-air Holot detention facility for asylum-seekers who were already in Israel. Asylum-seekers had to participate in three daily roll calls and sleep in the facility. The detainees were forbidden from working. Punishments for violations of the detention regulations were determined by Ministry of Interior clerks who are not jurists.

The detention in Holot was open-ended, asylum-seekers could only be released if they succumb to Ministry of Interior pressure and “agree” to leave to their country of origin. Detainees could also be freed if they gained refugee status in Israel, but since Israel’s asylum system is extremely unfair, only 0.15% of asylum applications received a positive answer on average per year. In addition, the law mandated that asylum-seekers who crossed the border into Israel after the law came into effect would be imprisoned for a year in Saharonim prison. Both Saharonim and Holot are located near the border with Egypt, far from any population centers. Over 2,000 asylum-seekers were detained under the law.

Once the law came into effect, the Hotline along with fellow human rights organizations filed a petition to the High Court demanding that the law be voided. On September 22, the High Court justices ruled seven to two that the Holot detention facility will be closed in three months, and until it is shut down, those detained within it will have to take part in two daily roll-calls instead of three. In addition. the ruling abrogated the article in the law that mandated a one-year detention in Saharonim prison for asylum-seekers who’ve arrived in Israel since the law came into effect in December 2013.

Despite the ruling, the Ministry of Interior continued to issue summons for detention in Holot to asylum-seekers who went to the Ministry of Interior to renew their temporary residency permit. We appealed to the Ministry of Interior and asked them to stop issuing the summons and following a report in Haaretz, the Ministry of Interior declared on September 29 that they will stop issuing summons to Holot. Despite this statement, the Ministry of Interior continued to issue summons. When Haaretz reported on that again, the Ministry of Interior promised that they will void the summons already given to asylum-seekers after the ruling. Despite this, five asylum-seekers who were released from detention in Saharonim immigration prison were not released and instead were transferred to Holot – again ignoring the High Court ruling.

At the same time, Israeli politicians launched an attack on the High Court, calling to curtail its powers passing a law that would explicitly exclude asylum-seekers from the applicability of Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty and to alter the selection of judges so that the politicians in the Knesset will have a greater influence over their selection. In addition, the government is preparing a law that will allow the State to maintain the policy of detaining asylum-seekers in the middle of the Negev desert for shorter periods of time.

In addition, the Israeli government is pushing to include a 30% tax on salaries of asylum-seekers that will have to be paid by the employers of asylum-seekers. This tax in 10% higher than the one levied on employers of migrant workers. The purpose of the measure, which the government wants to put into effect in January 2015, is to discourage Israelis from employing asylum-seekers, which will make it harder for them to find work in Israel and will make their lives more difficult.