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New Amendment to the Anti-infiltration Law Will Allow Detention of Asylum-Seekers in ‘open facilities’ for Indefinite Periods

Last Thursday (November 7), in response to the High Court of Justice’s overturning the amendment to the Anti- Infiltration Law, the Minister of Justice published a memorandum (the preliminary stage of legislation in Israel) regarding a new Anti-Infiltration Law. Interior Minister Gidon Saar is expected to present the memorandum to the government and Knesset within the next few weeks.

While under the previous amendment, asylum seekers were to be incarcerated for at least three years, the new amendment would limit the detention period to one year. Moreover, while in detention, the waiting time for an answer to a refugee status claim would be shortened to six months instead of nine months in the previous version.

However, as published in Israeli media in the past few weeks, the government will establish so-called ‘open facilities’. After a year, those who cannot be deported (including those whose life or freedom is endangered – the textbook definition of a refugee) will be transferred to the open facility, operated by the Israel Prison Service, for an indefinite period of time. The new proposal also stated that the Ministry of Interior will be able to transfer detainees currently jailed under the Anti-Infiltration Law or Entry to Israel Law to the open facility. The Minister of Interior would even be allowed to send ‘infiltrators’ who are not currently being held in any form of detention to the open facility.

The detainees in the open facility will be provided with housing, medical services and food. Women and children will be detained separately, and education will be provided to the children. In addition, according to the new amendment, the director of the open detention center would be authorized to employ the residents of the center in maintenance work within the center itself. For this work they will receive a “proper reward”, but it was emphasized that there would be no employer-employee relationship between the state and any ‘illegal migrant’. The detentions centers will be open during the day and closed at night, and the detainees will have to be present in roll-calls three times per day to prevent the asylum-seekers from venturing too far from the center and working elsewhere. If a detainee tries to run away, is late for a roll-call or is caught working outside the facility, he will be transferred to the closed prison for three months, and afterwards will get a chance to continue living in the ‘open facility’.

“Once again the state is doing its best to damage the rule of law and override the decisions of the Court”, said Attorneys Reut Michaeli, Executive Director of Hotline for Migrant workers and Oded Feller, Director of the Right to Citizenship department at the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI). “A facility that requires roll-calls three times a day and is managed by the prison service is a prison for all purposes. Detention in an ‘open’ facility as proposed will result in the continued deprivation of liberty of asylum seekers. The proposal is therefore contrary to the decision of the Court, which ruled unambiguously that the detention of those who cannot be deported is forbidden “.