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Knesset Passes Amended Anti-Infiltration Law

Two older versions were struck down by the High Court, which also ordered closure of Holot

i24news.tv–Israel’s Knesset on Monday passed a softer version of the Anti-Infiltration Law aimed at curbing illegal immigration, after the High Court quashed two earlier laws as repressive. The new act determines that anyone entering Israel illegally can be held in Saharonim detention center for up to three months instead of eight, after which he or she will be moved to Holot detention facility for a period of up to 20 months down from the previous 24 months.

It also lays out stiffer penalties for those employing “infiltrators”–a government term for illegal migrants, most of them Africans who slipped across the border from Egypt. “With a great effort we managed to get the law enacted and prevent the closure of the Holot facility,” Interior Minister Gilad Erdan said in a statement. The bill is actually an amendment to the existing Anti-Infiltration Law, submitted by Erdan and Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein. Weinstein was the one insisting on shortening the detention periods, for fear the High Court would void the law again like it did only three months ago.

Israel’s High Court of Justice in September ordered the closure of Holot within 90 days arguing it resembled a prison more than an open facility. It then suspended voiding the law for three months, to enable the state to draft alternative legislation.

If the legislation would not have been completed by December 22, the state would have had to release the refugees in Holot.

MK Nitzan Horowitz, of the left-wing Meretz party, said Monday that the latest incarnation of the bill would meet the same fate. “This time too I tell you, clearly and unequivocally, this law too will be overturned by the High Court [for the third time],” he told the house. “In a democratic state you cannot put people in prison without trial,” he said.

The UN says there are some 53,000 refugees and asylum-seekers in Israel, most of whom entered via the desert border with Egypt. Of that number, some 36,000 come from Eritrea where the regime has been repeatedly accused of widespread human rights abuses. Another 14,000 are from conflict-torn Sudan. 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.

The chairman of Israel’s Yesh Atid party, Yair Lapid, has proposed that Darfuri asylum seekers must be recognized as refugees. “We must treat these people as holocaust survivors,” he said on his Facebook page, but Eritrean migrants, he said, “who constitute the majority of those who infiltrated into the country,” should be treated as illegal immigrants.

Holot currently holds 2,200 asylum seekers from Eritrea and Sudan, 70 percent of whom are from Darfur.

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