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Human Rights Organizations Challenge the Knesset’s New Amendment to Infiltration Law

by Rabbi John Rosove

December 16, 2013 | 8:28 am

As readers of my blog know, I have been writing of the travails of the estimated 55,000 Eritrean and Sudanese Refugees who made it to Israel by walking hundreds of miles because they desperately sought safety from the genocidal dictatorships ruling their countries.

In last week's blog I wrote of the Knesset's passing a new amendment to the Anti-Infiltration Law that permits incarceration of these political asylum seekers for up to one year in an open incarceration center (i.e. prison) in the south in the middle of nowhere. In this center, there is a roll-call performed three times every day, so these people cannot successfully walk to the nearest Israeli town to buy food or toothpaste or anything in a grocery store and return to the incarceration center in time for roll-call. Should they not show up, they would be deported to their country of origin and most likely suffer death at the hands of their government.

Despite the High Court's earlier ruling that the original Knesset bill calling for three years incarceration was contrary to Israel's Basic Laws about freedom, the Knesset modified the law to one year.

I print below this morning's press release (December 16) from Israel's "Hotline for Refugees and Migrants" whose leader Sigal Rozen led my congregants and I on a walking tour of the South Tel Aviv neighborhood in October in which 35,000 Eritreans and Sudanese Refugees are forced to live (this is a 3 or 4 block area around the central bus station).

Israel's human rights organizations are not taking the most recent Knesset bill without fighting back. As you can see below, they are going back to the High Court of Justice (Israel's Supreme Court) and appealing the legality of the Knesset bill.

Stay tuned!

Press release
December 16, 2013

Human Rights Organizations Challenge New Amendment to Infiltration Law

New law even more unconstitutional than the one overturned by Court in September

Yesterday (December 15) several human rights organizations filed a petition with the High Court of Justice seeking the nullification of the new amendment to the Law to Prevent Infiltration. The organizations claim that the new amendment does not abide by the principles set forth by the Court's September 15 decision to overturn the previous amendment to the law, and is in many ways more severe than the nullified amendment.

The petition was submitted by Attorneys Oded Feller and Yonatan Berman of theAssociation for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), Attorneys Asaf Weitzan and Nimrod Avigal of the Hotline for Refugees and Migrants (formerly the Hotline for Migrant Workers), Attorneys Anat Ben Dor and Elad Cahana of the Refugee Rights Clinic at Tel Aviv University Faculty of Law, and Attorney Osnat Cohen Lifshitz of theClinic for Migrants' Right at the Academic Center for Law and Business, on behalf of ASSAF – Aid Organization for Refugees and Asylum Seekers in Israel, Kav Laoved, Physicians for Human Rights, the African Refugee Development Center (ARDC), and two asylum seekers from Eritrea transferred last weekend from Saharonim prison to the Holot "open" facility across the road.

The petition strongly criticized the state's actions following the High Court decision. Rather than seek new humane solutions to the refugee issue as the Court directed, the respondents delayed the releases ordered by the Court as long as possible and rushed through a piece of legislation that undermines the ruling and continues treating the asylum seekers inhumanely. The new amendment's one-year administrative detention provision ignores the Court's ruling on the unconstitutionality of imprisoning people who cannot be deported. Perhaps worse, the amendment allows for the interminable detention of non-deportable migrants in facilities managed by the prison authorities and designed to break their spirit until they "voluntarily" self-deport, even if it means endangering their lives.

The petition further argues that the ostensible deterrence purpose of the legislation presents a solution to a problem that does not exist because no new asylum seekers are reaching Israel. "Less than three months after the decision, which included harsh criticism, the legislation was passed in lighting speed. What changed during this period? Nothing. Was there a substantial increase of asylum seekers entering Israel that required a response? No. According to Population and Immigration Authority publications, in the past three moths, 4 Sudanese men have entered Israel irregularly."

To support their request for an interim injunction, the petitioners point out that despite the government having decided to build the "open" facility over than three years ago, it saw no use for it until the court's decision to overturn the prior amendment. "The urgency of the legislation and the completion of the facility demonstrate that its establishment and operation are not the result not of substantive considerations but rather the desire to avoid releasing the detainees, in defiance of the decision of the Court."

For these reasons, the petitioners claim that the new amendment, like the old one, is "outside constitutional boundaries and does not comport to the principles set forth by the High Court of Justice, to the point of ignoring [the prior amendment's] having been voided at all."  The petitioners seek an urgent hearing on the petition and an injunction to stay the transfer of asylum seekers to the Holot facility. Justice Handel ordered the respondents to file their response to the injunction request within ten days.

To read the entire petition (in Hebrew) click here.
For more information about the previous legal proceedings (in English) click here.
Media enquiries:
Anat Ovadia (Hotline for Refugees and Migrants)
054-3177851
Marc Grey (ACRI)
0544405203

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