Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered ministers on Tuesday to draft new legislation to tackle illegal immigrants after the High Court overturned a law allowing their extended detention without trial.
The order came at a meeting with the ministers of justice, the interior and public security a day after a heated parliamentary debate which saw hardline MPs attacking the court ruling.
“At the end of the meeting, the prime minister requested that a new bill be prepared that would express the government of Israel’s determination to continue to act against infiltrators,” a statement from Netanyahu’s office said.
It was using a term often employed by the government to refer to illegal migrants, most of them Africans who slipped across the border from Egypt.
It said tough government policy had so far led to he expulsion of 6,000 such illegals.
“It was agreed that the interior minister will, at the earliest opportunity, draft the outline of a new law which will enable the continued arrest of new infiltrators and their transfer to a custodial facility for an effective period of time and to continue the operation of the Holot holding facility,” the statement added.
The High Court ruled on September 22 that the government could no longer detain illegal migrants for up to a year without trial and ordered the closure of the Holot centre, deep in the Negev Desert in southern Israel, within 90 days.
Around 2,000 Africans are currently held there.
A year ago, the High Court struck down a similar law allowing migrants to be held for up to three years without trial.
“It is in the highest national interest to prevent the entry of new infiltrators to Israel and to encourage the departure of those who are in Israel and that is what we shall do,” the statement quoted Netanyahu as telling Tuesday’s meeting.
Government figures indicate there are some 48,000 Africans residing illegally in Israel, most of them from Eritrea, where the regime has been repeatedly accused of widespread human rights abuses, and from conflict-torn Sudan.
Many of them live in impoverished areas of southern Tel Aviv, where Israeli residents have frequently protested against their presence.
A spokeswoman for Justice Minister Tzipi Livni said that while new legislation was necessary, it would not defy the court’s ruling, which protected the Africans’ human rights.
“Israel has a fundamental right to prevent the infiltration of work migrants through its borders, yet at the same time they will be treated only within the limitations set out by the court,” Maya Bengal told AFP ahead of the meeting.