Hundreds of African Migrants Released From Detention Center

African illegal migrants walking out of the Holot detention center in the Negev on Tuesday, after the High Court ordered their release. (AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov)
African illegal migrants walking out of the Holot detention center in the Negev on Tuesday, after the High Court ordered their release. (AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov)

Israel began releasing hundreds of African migrants from a remote detention center in southern Israel on Tuesday, after a court ruling earlier this month ordered the release of those held for more than a year.

Since it passed a 2012 anti-infiltration law, Israel has sent 1,700 migrants to the Holot facility in the Negev. They can come and go, but must sign in several times a day and sleep there, making it impossible to stray far from the remote facility or hold jobs.

The Supreme Court upheld the law but ruled that migrants held at Holot for more than 12 months must be freed.

Those released receive a monthly 600-shekel stipend ($156), their belongings, water, food and medicine.

About 1,200 migrants will be released beginning Tuesday. Another 500 will remain at Holot until the end of their one-year holding period. Some 50,000 African migrants are in Israel, most from Eritrea and Sudan.

Israel does not deport migrants, because they could face danger in their conflict-ridden homelands. But critics charge that the government is pursuing a strategy of coercing the migrants to leave.

Those released from Holot have limited employment opportunities. They are officially barred from working, but many still find jobs in the service industry. They are not eligible for public welfare and are also banned from Tel Aviv and Eilat.

Many leaving Tuesday said they would go to other, smaller cities, where they hoped to find work.

One of those cities made it known on Tuesday that they would not be welcome there. The mayor of Arad, Nissan Ben Hamo, on Tuesday ordered inspectors and police to patrol entrances to the city, in order to keep the migrants out, according to a Times of Israel report.

Currently several hundred migrants live in Arad.

Ben Hamo criticized Interior Minister Silvan Shalom for banning them from Tel Aviv or Eilat, which he says will cause an influx into southern cities like Arad.

Opposition to the deportation of the illegal migrants has come largely from Israel’s left-wing circles. But, according to Arutz Sheva, human rights organizations have been having a hard time placing the refugees on leftist kibbutzim.

Jewish Home activist Lev Solodkin noted that 17 percent of kibbutz residents voted for Meretz in the last election, and 57 percent voted for the Zionist Camp, both of which support the High Court’s lenient policy toward the migrants.

The Zionist Union’s platform, Solodkin added, calls for solutions that will “encourage geographical dispersal” of the infiltrators throughout Israel and “will prevent a situation in which disenfranchised populations and isolated local government councils are saddled with a social and economic burden.”

He said the kibbutzim should take in infiltrators – “or stop voting for parties that encourage a social and demographic catastrophe in southern Tel Aviv, Ashdod, Arad and communities that are less fortunate.”

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