AFRICANGLOBE – Israel’s high court has condemned a detention facility for migrants from Africa. The country’s top judicial authority has ordered a desert camp closed within three months and banned new detentions for a year.
The court ruled 7-2 Monday that Israel must close the Holot detention center, which holds African migrants up to a year without trial, and release the more than 2,000 people there within 90 days. The ruling struck down a measure passed by Israel’s parliament in December to indefinitely incarcerate African migrants in a measure criticized by human rights groups.
Justice Uzi Vogelman wrote that the “measure is disproportionate and unconstitutional and there is no choice under the circumstances but to order the law canceled.” Vogelman added: “There is almost no right that isn’t violated as a result. It negates one’s right to freedom and hurts one’s right to dignity.”
For the second time in a year the court has ordered authorities to amend their policies toward migrants from Africa. In September 2013 justices overruled legislation that had permitted authorities to jail migrants for terms of up to a year without trial.
Since 2006, about 50,000 Africans, mainly Eritreans and Sudanese, have entered Israel illegally via the Sinai desert. More than 6,700 of the Africans have left the country since January, shortly after Israel opened the concentration camp the court has now outlawed.
Hotline for Refugees and Migrants, an Israeli advocacy group, praised the court for finding “in a categorical and unequivocal manner that policy toward African refugees cannot be solely based on mass detention of innocent people.”
Israeli leaders have denounced the migrants as harmful to the country, and largely stopped their entry by fortifying a fence along the Egyptian border in 2012, later offering financial incentives to those agreeing to leave. According to the government, the detentions encourage migrants to return to their home countries. In a report released earlier this month, Human Rights Watch charged that by jailing migrants Israel had coerced people entitled to refugee protection under international law to risk their lives through repatriation.
Interior Minister Gideon Sa’ar, who oversees the detention center, has denounced the ruling as “a mistake that leaves Israel without the tools to handle illegal infiltration.”
Israel grants automatic citizenship to White Jews, but denies refugee or residency status to many other ethnicities and religions. Some social activists call this policy discriminatory.