Netanyahu: Don't Close Holot Detention Facility

Prime Minister instructs Interior Minister to draw up a law that will keep Holot facility open despite High Court's nixing of previous law.

Gil Ronen, AFP ,

Binyamin Netanyahu meets infiltrator (file)
Binyamin Netanyahu meets infiltrator (file)
Flash 90

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu held a discussion Tuesday on the continued problem of illegal immigrant workers, as legislators scramble to react to a controversial decision by the High Court to scrap the so-called "Infiltrator Law" aimed at tackling the problem.

Attending the discussion were Interior Minister Gideon Saar, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, Public Security Minister Yitzchak Aharonovitch, Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein, Prime Minister's Office Director General Harel Locker, Prison Service Commissioner Aharon Franco, Tel Aviv District Police Commander Bentzy Sau, State Attorney Shai Nitzan, Migration and Population Authority Director Amnon Ben-Ami and other senior officials.

Netanyahu instructed that a new draft law be prepared that expresses the Government of Israel's determination to continue dealing with the problem of illegal migration, a determination that has blocked illegal migration into Israel and led to the departure of approximately 6,000 illegal migrants up to now.

It was agreed that Interior Minister Saar will formulate, without delay, a draft memorandum on the law that will provide for the continued detention of new migrants who will be held for an effective period, and for the continued operation of the Holot open holding facility, while taking into consideration the rulings of the High Court of Justice. At the same time, action to encourage the voluntary repatriation of migrants will continue. Enforcement against the employment of illegal migrants will be stepped up and other measures will be taken.

"Preventing the entry of new migrants into Israel and encouraging the repatriation of migrants already in Israel is an outstanding national interest and we will act accordingly," Netanyahu declared.

Interior Minister Saar, who has vocally criticized the High Court ruling, agreed.

"Our obligation to the citizens of Israel requires that we provide effective tools to enable the determined continuation of dealing with the phenomenon of illegal migration," he said.

For his part, Attorney General Weinstein assured that any alternative bill would respect the court's ruling.

"We will continue to deal with the phenomenon of illegal migration while upholding the law and the rulings of the High Court of Justice," he said.

48,000 Africans residing illegally in Israel

The High Court ruled on September 22 that the government could no longer detain illegal migrants for up to a year without trial and ordered the closure of the Holot center, deep in the Negev Desert in southern Israel, within 90 days.

Around 2,000 Africans are currently held there.

A year ago, the High Court struck down a similar law allowing migrants to be held for up to three years without trial.

"It is in the highest national interest to prevent the entry of new infiltrators to Israel and to encourage the departure of those who are in Israel and that is what we shall do," a government statement quoted Netanyahu as telling Tuesday's meeting.

Government figures indicate there are some 48,000 Africans residing illegally in Israel.

Many of them live in impoverished areas of southern Tel Aviv, where Israeli residents have frequently protested against their presence.

A spokeswoman for Justice Minister Tzipi Livni said that while new legislation was necessary, it would not defy the court's ruling, which protected the Africans' human rights.

"Israel has a fundamental right to prevent the infiltration of work migrants through its borders, yet at the same time they will be treated only within the limitations set out by the court," Maya Bengal told AFP ahead of the meeting.