The High Court of Justice (HCJ) ruled on Tuesday evening that all illegal African migrants, currently being detained in the Saharonim detention facility in southern Israel, must be released within five days in the absence of approval by Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit of an agreement with a “third country” which will accept the deportees.
As part of the discussions that got underway earlier following the filing of a petition by human rights organizations, the judges reprimanded the state representatives urging that the migrants remain in detention for failing to update them on the recent collapse of an agreement with Rwanda, which was said to have been a first “third country” prepared to take in the migrants.
“If by April 15 at 12pm the attorney general has not approved the updated deal with ‘the second third country’ and accepts the arrangements for its implementation, all detainees in Saharonim detention facility who refused to go to this country and are being held there due to this refusal will be released on the same day,” the court decision read.
“The reason for this ruling is that in the absence of an agreement ... there is no longer cause to continue holding them in custody,” it added.
In their ruling, the judges left an opening for the submission of new appeals by rights groups in the event that Mandelblit to sanction the deal.
“To remove any doubt, we emphasize that at this time, we are not expressing any position regarding the validity or legality of such an agreement," it noted.
The judges believed it was appropriate, they continued in their statement, “to note that the respondents and their representatives (the state) could have been expected to inform us at the time of the previous hearing of the petitions ... the fact that a few weeks earlier the respondents discovered that there had been considerable difficulties regarding the arrangement with the first 'third country' (Rwanda) and that initial contacts had been initiated with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees."
On Wednesday, the coalition is expected to examine several possibilities to resolve the issue of the thousands of Eritrean and Sudanese illegal migrants in Israel, who the Israeli government says are economic migrants but rights groups say are asylum seekers fleeing persecution.
One option has was initiated by Tourism Minister Yariv Levin, according to which the Knesset will determine a ruling clause that will prevent the HCJ from disqualifying the Infiltrators Law
Senior politicians say that a decision has not yet been reached on the matter, which will be discussed further in Wednesday’s meeting.
In the event that Netanyahu moves ahead with the initiative, Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon has already stated his intention to support it. Its first obstacle however, is expected to be laid by Mandelblit.
Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennett was also quick to throw his weight behind Yariv’s initiative. “I praise the prime minister for responsiveness … to pass the Infiltrators Bill . I expect it to be promoted extremely quickly,” the education minister said.
Bennett and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked (Bayit Yehudi) announced recently their intention to sponsor a redrafting of a migrant deportation bill, this time including a notwithstanding clause that will effectively bar the HCJ from striking the law down.
During Tuesday's discussions, the state representative Shosh Shmueli told the judges that a special envoy dispatched by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to the third country is continuing efforts to persuade it to take in the detained migrants, Supreme Court Chief Justice Esther Hayut responded bluntly, “So there is no agreement.”
The state representative also admitted during the discussions that Israel was in contact with the UN regarding a deal aimed at resolving the migrant crisis before Prime Minister Netanyahu accepted it, suspended it and then scrapped it all together within twenty-four hours, noting that the HCJ had not been informed.