Israel passes law to detain illegal African migrants

AFP , Tuesday 10 Dec 2013

Israel's parliament has approved a law which allows illegal immigrants from Africa to be detained for up to a year without trial, MPs announced on Tuesday.

The government-backed bill amends earlier legislation from 2012 under which illegal immigrants could be held for three years without trial that was overturned by the Supreme Court in September.

The new bill passed by 30 votes in favour to 15 against during a late-night vote in the 120-member parliament, or Knesset.

It was the latest in a series of measures aimed at cracking down on the numbers of Africans entering the country illegally, which Israel says poses a threat to the state's Jewish character.

Last year, Israel launched a crackdown on what it said were 60,000 illegal African immigrants, rounding up and deporting 3,920 by the end of the year, and building a hi-tech fence along the border with Egypt.

On November 24, the cabinet approved measures aimed at tackling the question of illegal immigrants, including a crackdown on employers and financial incentives for those agreeing to return to their country of origin.

It has also invested in the construction of a sprawling detention facility for illegals arriving in Israel and for immigrants already in the country who "disturb the public order," the premier's office said.

The facility, to be inaugurated on December 12 and run by the Israel Prisons Services, will be open during the day but locked at night, and it will initially house up to 3,300 people, Haaretz newspaper reported.

It said capacity could be expanded to hold up to 11,000.

Hardliners from Prime Minister Netanyahu's Likud party praised the new legislation, with Interior Minister Gideon Saar saying it would "allow us to keep illegals away from our cities."

And MP Miri Regev said Israel should "send them all back to their countries."

But not everyone welcomed the legislation.

"Would you also have placed Nelson Mandela in a closed detention centre?" asked Tamar Zandberg from the leftwing Meretz party.

Human rights groups say most African migrants in Israel cannot be deported because their lives would be under threat if they returned home to Sudan and Eritrea.

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