Israel threatens migrants will unlimited detention
Tue Jan 10, 2012 8:46pm GMT
* Israel trying to stop migrants crossing Egypt border
* Critics say decision "immoral" (Recasts with clarification on unlimited
By Allyn Fisher-Ilan
JERUSALEM, Jan 10 (Reuters) - Israel threatened illegal immigrants with
unlimited detention on Tuesday as it tightened legislation to stop an
increasing number of people crossing its porous Sinai Desert border from
The move, which raised the maximum detention from 60 days, drew sharp
criticism from refugee groups and activists, who said the "immoral" decision
would hit refugees fleeing conflict.
The issue of immigration raises fierce emotions in Israel, many of whose
citizens themselves arrived as refugees after World War Two's Nazi
Israel's parliament voted through the changes in an overnight session to
"handle a situation of infiltrations along the southern border which many
view as a plague", said lawmaker Amnon Cohen from the religious Shas party
The measure amended a 1954 wartime law which defined infiltrators as
guerrillas entering from Egypt to attack Israeli border towns.
Israel may now detain anyone illegally crossing the border for an indefinite
period, though an administrative judge must review the case after seven
days, and again after three years, the amended law says.
An initial statement from Parliament suggested a three year maximum
detention, but a text released later showed no clear limit for incarceration
had been set, though every migrant's case would be subject to periodic
The amendment also gave authorities the power to jail anyone who helps
migrants enter illegally.
A record number of migrants, largely from Sudan and Eritrea, have arrived in
Israel in the past two years.
Numbers have risen in the past few months, with government figures showing
more than 2,000 arrivals across the Egyptian border in November.
That brought the total number of migrants in the country to 51,000, up from
33,000 at the close of 2010.
Israeli ministers have said the vast majority of migrants come to find work,
not flee prosecution.
"These are not refugees but people who seek to improve their standard of
living at our expense," said cabinet minister Matan Vilnai, calling the
migrants "a real threat to the State of Israel," whose Jewish-majority
population is 7.5 million.
"DEEP STAIN ON OUR DEMOCRACY"
Aid groups have said more migrants were trying to get into Israel because
routes across Libya to Europe had been blocked by the uprising there. Unrest
in Egypt may have spurred more refugees to head toward Israel, they add.
"Not only are these steps by the government immoral, they do not provide any
solution to the issue of asylum-seekers in Israel," said Yael Marom,
coordinator for a Tel Aviv-based aid group called ASSAF.
Moshe Negbi, Israel Radio's legal commentator, called the measure a "deep
stain on our democracy".
Israeli cabinet secretary Zvi Hauser told Israeli media migrants were a
strain on Israel's society and social services whose infrastructure he saw
as "at risk of collapse".
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government approved $167 million last
month for a planned detention facility for illegal migrants and other
Israel is also building a fence along its frontier with Egypt to try to
block the migrants as well as prevent infiltrations by Islamist militants
blamed for an attack in August in which eight Israelis and five Egyptians
were killed. (Writing by Allyn Fisher-Ilan. Editing by Douglas Hamilton and
C Thomson Reuters 2012 All rights reserved
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Received on Wed Jan 11 2012 - 16:21:52 EST