Advancing the rights of migrant workers throughout the Middle East

Israel passes indefinite detention bill

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Jan 15 2012

Israel’s parliament passed an incredibly controversial law last week that permits the unlimited, indefinite detention of migrants. The law amends a 1954 statute pertaining to guerrilla fighters penetrating the Israeli-Egyptian border. By sactioning the same wartime punishment against alleged terrorists and asylum seekers (the type of migrant the legislation inherently victimizes), Israel conflates the respective security threats - an unnerving tendency that is continually echoed within the chambers of the Knesset.

The indefinite detention of illegal migrants dispossesses asylum seekers from their basic rights, including the right to trial as well as to timely deportation. The law only requires a review of detention within seven days, and once again every three years. Any crime committed by migrant workers - from graffiti to weapons possession - is grounds for detainment. This default criminalization of migrants and the terms of their detention contradict several international treaties. Mandated periodic reviews that are years apart fail to mitigate these abuses.

The amendment adds to the growing body of legislation targeting migrants, which includes a five to fifteen year prison sentence for individuals aiding or sheltering illegal migrants. The brute response to migrants is entangled in Israel’s ambiguous, ad-hoc refugee process which broadly condemns assylum seekers as economic profiteers; to date, less than 200 asylum seekers have been granted refuge status. Israel has failed to uphold its obligations as a signatory to the Convention on the Status of Refugees, which requires nations to implement substantive assylum law.

The Knesset's heavy-handed approach to migration is driven by, and itself perpetuates, this misperception of migrants; statements by the Knesset members and citizens alike manufacture a disasterous image of Israel’s future if refugee migration is sustained, stoking fears in the hopes of justifying draconian and discriminatory laws.

The debate over asylum seekers is particularly intense in Israel as many of its own citizens are refugees from Europe. Israeli communities and international organizations have strongly voiced their discontent with the law; a homegrown initiative called STOP the Infiltration Prevention Law Campaign produced an awareness video featured on’s politic's cause page. See the video and responses from other Israeli NGOs here. Amnesty international also condemned the law in a public statement here.

Advancing the rights of migrant workers throughout the Middle East