Huge detention centre to be Israel´s latest weapon in migration battle (GUARDIAN UK) Phoebe Greenwood in Tel Aviv 04/18/12)
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Human rights lawyer says complex for up to 11,000 asylum seekers and
migrants will be ´prison for people from Africa´
A vast detention complex is rising from the sandy grounds of Ktzi´ot
prison in the Negev desert, close to Israel´s border with Egypt,
which will become the world´s largest holding facility for asylum
seekers and migrants.
When it is completed, at an initial cost of £58m to the Israeli
government, it will be capable of holding up to 11,000 people.
Despite unprecedented protests at rising costs of living, and
increased threats to national security in a volatile, post-Arab
spring Middle East, immigration is of such paramount importance to
Binyamin Netanyahu´s coalition that it has skimmed a minimum of 2%
from every ministry´s budget to fund the construction and start-up
costs of the building.
"We are a small country of 8 million. Last year we had more illegal
immigrants than legal ones," said Mark Regev, the Israeli
"We are currently the only first-world economy and the only democracy
in the region. But for people coming from countries like Somalia and
Sudan, we cannot be the solution."
Regev said the new detention centre, which should receive its first
3,000 detainees by the end of this year, was part of a multi-tiered
strategy to tackle and deter economic migration. Other measures
include a security fence that will run the length of Israel´s
southern border, aggressive implementation of employment laws and,
ultimately, repatriation of the migrants.
In January, the Knesset passed a controversial bill categorising
anyone attempting to enter the country through its southern border as
an "infiltrator" who can be detained for three years – longer if they
are from a "hostile state" such as Sudan.
"If we find any bona fide refugees, some will be able to stay and
others will be sent to a third country that accepts refugees," said
Of the 13,683 people who entered Israel illegally in 2010, 62% were
Eritreans and 33% were Sudanese. According to UNHCR figures, 66% of
Eritreans who arrive illegally in the UK are granted refugee status
and 96% of those arriving in Canada.
In 2010, Israel recognised three refugees, rising to six last year.
In total, just 170 people claiming asylum have been granted refugee
status by the Jewish state since it signed the refugee convention in
Mubarak, 18, arrived in 2009. He fled Darfur in western Sudan when
the Janjaweed militia destroyed his village. The militiamen pursued
families as they fled to nearby villages, looking for children to
fight with them. His parents told him to run for his life.
He was 15 when he arrived in Israel and was held at a detention camp
for women and children for 22 days, with up to 30 children in one
small tent. He says the days in detention were the longest of his
"I didn´t know what would happen to me. No one said when I was going
to be let out. That was the worst thing, not knowing. When you aren´t
able to move, to go anywhere, you have too much time to think," he
said. "It´s not a good place to be. To think people would be staying
there for three years, they would all be driven crazy. We are
refugees. We aren´t supposed to be in jail."
But Mubarak is not recognised as a refugee in Israel. Immigrants from
Sudan and Eritrea are currently offered "group protection", which
means they cannot be sent back to their home countries – but nor are
they afforded any rights or state support.
Israel´s ministry of defence says the new detention facility will
have libraries, teachers, day care, basketball courts and several
Following pressure from human rights groups, the space allocated per
person has been increased from 2.5 square metres to 4.9, including
bathrooms. According to EU standards, the "desirable" size is 7
square metres. A high-ranking official involved with overseeing
construction of the centre says: "It will be very comfortable. But at
the end of the day, we are dealing with people who have entered
Israel illegally. I am not making them a hotel – although it´s not
too far from one."
Amnesty Israel´s position is that however much the conditions are
improved, the prolonged detention of refugees is still
illegal. "Detention should never be used as a deterrent. Asylum
seekers should not be treated as criminals," it argues.
Oded Feller, a lawyer for the Association for Civil Rights in Israel,
is among the activists opposed to the construction of the Ktzi´ot
complex. Detention centres, he argues, are places where asylum
applications are processed and people should be held only for a
matter of months.
"It doesn´t matter if they have places to learn and play, they will
be held there," said Feller. "It will be a prison for people from
Africa. The Israeli government is building a refugee camp, not a
detention centre." (guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited
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