Gov’t: Jail or Emigration Only Choices for Illegal Migrants Now

Eritrean immigrants in Yerushalayim. (Noam Moskowitz/Flash90)

The government voted unanimously Sunday to shutter the Holot detention facility, where illegal African migrants were sent while cases regarding their request for asylum were decided. With a deal signed to deport the migrants to an African country willing to accept them, illegal migrants will now either be sent abroad or jailed.

Speaking at Sunday’s cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said that Israel had a multi-faceted approach to dealing with the flood of illegal migrants. “At the first stage, we try to stop them, and for that purpose we erected a security fence and passed laws that together have significantly cut down on the number of migrants entering the country,” Netanyahu said. “The second stage is removing them from the country, and we have managed to send some 20,000 who volunteered to leave abroad. Now we are at the third stage — an increased pace of deportation, which can take place as a result of an international agreement we negotiated. We will be able to remove the 40,000 illegal migrants who remain here even if they are unwilling to leave. Thanks to this agreement, we can close the Holot facility.”

Netanyahu signed a deal with an African country — said to be Rwanda — to accept the illegal migrants who have infiltrated Israel in recent years. Until that deal was signed, the only option for removing the migrants was to offer them thousands of dollars in cash and benefits to persuade them to emigrate. Those who refused the deal were sent to the Holot detention facility in southern Israel, but the High Court ruled that the government could not forcibly detain the migrants there.

Most of the migrants have claimed political asylum, saying they cannot go back to their countries of origin — mostly South Sudan and Eritrea — lest they face torture for their political beliefs. Under international law, Israel cannot deport political refugees back to their own country, but they do need to be certified as refugees by Israeli authorities. The government contends that most of the migrants are here to work, not for political asylum, but with a years-long backlog of cases needing decisions on claims of political asylum, the illegals effectively are able to stay and work in Israel without a decision being made on their status. However, with the new deal, the migrants’ cases can be adjudicated while they live and work in Rwanda.

Residents of south Tel Aviv, where many of the illegal migrants live, expressed satisfaction with the decision to close Holot. Tel Aviv Deputy Mayor Arnon Giladi said that “the government’s decision is a brave one, and I hope that the High Court will not try to interfere with it. It’s time for the government to remove these illegal migrants and return south Tel Aviv to its residents.”

Tel Aviv City Council member Shlomo Maslawy, who represents the Hatikvah neighborhood in south Tel Aviv, also praised the decision. “The Holot facility had turned into a form of summer camp for these people, and not a facility where they felt impelled to leave the country,” he said. “I only hope the government actually goes through with its plan to forcibly deport illegal migrants.”