A government discussion on the establishment of an "open detention facility" for infiltrators who entered Israel illegally through Egypt
is causing panic among African refugees and work migrants. Aid organizations are referring to the new facility as a refugee camp – "a ghetto for forced and unlimited detention."
Following the new regulations forbidding refuge seekers to work, a Sudanese family which infiltrated Israel about three years ago has found itself caught between a rock and a hard place.
The parents, who have a small boy and a baby girl, found work in a hotel and waited for the government to make a decision on their status. The new regulations led to their dismissal, and now the couple fears that it will find itself not only jobless but also in a large detention facility.
"I've been trying again and again to convince employers not to fire, explaining that the enforcement has yet to begin. Unfortunately, I am unsuccessful," says Sigal Rosen of Hotline for Migrant Workers.
"We are flooded with calls," adds Emi Saar, the Hotline's coordinator. People are asking what will happen, afraid that they will be taken to a camp. They don't understand why this is being done. Many don't know what to do with the children. I really hope this won't be implemented, because it contradicts every single treaty. We know it won't be an open camp."
Dr. Ido Lurie, medical director of the Open Clinic operated by the Physicians for Human Rights association noted that the establishment of a detention facility for refugees and infiltrators in the Negev was a bad idea.
"Detention is a terrible trauma and may be even more serious for people who were exposed to this trauma in the past. Most of those arriving in Israel were persecuted in their countries for political and other reasons. Many of the refuge seekers underwent additional traumas like rape, torture and abuse while passing through Sinai.
"The State of Israel,
which was established by refugees and immigrants for refugees and immigrants, cannot afford to be morally blind to any person, regardless of the color of his or her skin," Lurie added.
"The UN convention on refugee, which is also signed by Israel, states that the country the refugee arrived in is responsible for his welfare, health and rights – including freedom of movement, access to documents and the right to work. With all the complexity, there are many other solutions."
Ahead of the government discussion, Attorneys Oded Feller and Osnat Cohen-Lifshitz of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel and the Hotline for Migrant Workers turned to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
and asked him to renege on the detention facility idea.
"This is another shocking stage in the government's ongoing disregard of its ethical and legal duties," they said in their appeal. The two noted in their letter that contrary to claims made by the Prime Minister's Office, refuge seekers are not held in detention for an unlimited period of time in European countries.
"The actual meaning of this decision is the establishment of a refugee camp, which is basically a ghetto for forced detention, which is not limited in time, of refuge seekers and children," Feller concludes. "Refuge seekers and children are already being held in the Saharonim Prison without granting access to the media to document their detention conditions."
Internal Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch demanded Friday that the management of the facility would not be imposed on the Israel Prison Service. The minister explained in a letter sent to Cabinet Secretary Zvi Hauser that the IPS "has no knowledge or experience in managing and dealing with the detention of a civilian population, and therefore does not posses the appropriate tools to carry out this task."
While Aharonovitch's objection appears to stem from technical reasons and battles of honor between the ministries, the prime minister is not likely to face any difficulties in approving the facility. Most right-wing ministers are expected to vote in favor of the proposal, and the Labor Party
is not expected to object.
Attila Somfalvi contributed to this report