Israel finally plans to close its desert detention facility for African asylum seekers. Refugee advocates worry it could be the start of something even worse.
During a midnight vote on Monday, the Knesset passed a bill that will enable the government to detain asylum seekers indefinitely or deport them to an unspecified country in Africa. The law passed by a margin of 71 to 41.
The consequences of the law will stem not only from what appears in the text of the bill itself, but also what doesn’t: there is nothing in the bill that mentions deportation. Instead, on paper, the law—which amends an existing law dealing with illegal immigration to Israel—extends existing provisions that allow the state to fine businesses that employ asylum seekers and that prohibit asylum seekers from taking money out of the country. The bill also sets geographic limits on where asylum seekers can live, a measure that previously applied only to asylum seekers who had been imprisoned in the Holot detention facility. Most significantly, the bill sunsets the legal mandate of the Holot facility, which is now expected to shut down in March of 2018.
The closure of Holot is planned to coincide with the implementation of agreements—the specific terms of which remain state secrets—between Israel and Rwanda and Uganda. According to recent announcements by Interior Minister Aryeh Deri and Internal Security Minister Gilad Erdan, once Israel closes Holot, Israel will present asylum seekers with a stark choice: deportation to Rwanda or Uganda or indefinite detention in Israel. In a High Court of Justice hearing last Tuesday, the state notified the court that it will begin deportations in a matter of weeks.
The deportation announcement comes on the heels of another High Court ruling in August that struck down a previous plan to deport Eritrean and Sudanese asylum seekers. In that case, the court ruled that the government could not use the threat of indefinite detention to force the asylum seekers to leave, since the agreements stipulated that the asylum seekers had to leave voluntarily, explained Attorney Anat Ben Dor of Tel Aviv University’s Refugee Rights Clinic.
The government claims that it has...Read More