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Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Israel passes 'harsh' immigration law

Photo by runran
By Paul Canning

A law which could lead to the indefinite detention of asylum seekers has been passed by the Israeli parliament.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu voted for the bill, which his spokesman called part of a “multitiered strategy to deal with the challenge of illegal immigration to Israel.”

The bill has been sharply criticized by refugee advocates, and is seen as targeting some 50,000 Africans who have entered Israel illegally since 2005, according to Israeli government estimates.

And in a country built by refugees it has caused soul-searching with the conservative Jerusalem Post in a November 11 Editorial saying:

Now with a sovereign country of its own the Jewish people must not only serve as a moral example of how developed countries should deal with refugees and asylum-seekers, but also make sure that a strong Jewish majority is maintained in a sovereign Jewish state.

The law is the first one dealing with refugees - until now they have been managed under an emergency law from 1954.

The amended law will enable the Israeli authorities to hold in administrative detention for up to three years migrant workers and asylum seekers with their children. This is not unusual, although harsh. Australia, for example, also holds asylum seekers in detention for long periods although it is retreating from that policy because of the growing evidence that it produces serious mental harm. Contrary to that trend, the Israeli law's proponents argued that long detention periods would deter refugees.

Anyone who is fleeing from a so-called “enemy” country can be held indefinitely. This can mean those refugees and their children fleeing genocide from the Darfur region of Sudan or gays fleeing Iraq. The law stipulates that persons originating from such countries or areas are not to be bailed from detention under any conditions.

Any refugee or migrant committing the most minor infraction of Israeli law could be jailed from three years to life.

"This is extremely irregular, because in Israel today it is legally impossible to keep a person in custody for years without putting him on trial and proving his guilt in a legal procedure," Knesset legal advisor Eyal Yinon told the Constitution Committee last month.

The law will criminalize what it calls ‘irregular entry’ and makes no provision for those fleeing persecution.

It creates a summary removal procedure — within 72 hours — without giving the individual an adequate opportunity to challenge their deportation. There is no distinction made for how children will be treated.

The Justice Ministry had proposed that those aiding refugees could be criminally prosecuted - providing them with shelter could mean a prison sentence of between five and 15 years. That provision was amended at the last moment, so it no longer applies to organizations or people who provide humanitarian aid.

The Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) has called the law:

“one of the most dangerous bills ever presented in the Knesset.”

Israeli activist Elizabeth Tsurkov wrote that:

The law is designed to target the weakest of the groups living in Israel – survivors of genocide, civil war, prolonged servitude, torture and rape – by using a law originally intended to combat armed saboteurs. Past attempts to pass this law (which was first drafted in 2006) were foiled due to a harsh public response. However, following years of systematic incitement against refugees by Israel government officials, the Israeli public now largely sees refugees as illegal migrants, undeserving of sympathy, and as a result, this inhumane law has now become reality.

The
 Hebrew
 Immigrant
 Aid
 Society,
 a
 critical
 contributor
 to
 training
 and 
monitoring
 the 
Israeli 
immigration
 system,
 recently withdrew its
 presence
 in
 Israel
 in
 protest
 of
 Israeli
 treatment
 of
 asylum
 seekers.
 The 
US
 Department
 of
 State
 has
 echoed 
criticism
 of 
Israeli 
treatment
 of 
asylum
 seekers, 
condemning 
a lack
 of 
legal 
representation, 
lack
 of
 interpretation,
 in
judicial hearings 
and 
extended 
detention.

The Africans reaching Israel face appalling conditions on the way with NGO EveryOne Group reporting only yesterday about 44 more Eritreans kidnapped for ransom in the Northern Sinai, including six children. They also reported that another African released by traffickers had then been tortured and shot in the leg by Egyptian police.

There have also been multiple, grisly reports of migrants in Egypt being targeted for body parts.
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