Israel's Round-Up of African Immigrants Reversed

Government Never Authorized Detention of 15,000 Sudanese

Free for Now: Sudanese immigrants will not be rounded up and imprisoned. Authorities now say a harsh new law will only apply to those who arrived after it was passed.
nathan jeffay
Free for Now: Sudanese immigrants will not be rounded up and imprisoned. Authorities now say a harsh new law will only apply to those who arrived after it was passed.

By Nathan Jeffay

Published October 28, 2012.
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Israel’s heavily publicized plan to round up and imprison thousands of illegal immigrants from the Sudan, including many refugees from the Darfur conflict, has been scrapped — and now appears to have been little more than a stunt by a rogue minister.

The state attorney revealed this week that the government never authorized Interior Minister Eli Yishai’s plan for a mass round-up. A new law aimed at stemming the tide of illegal immigrants would only apply to the handful who have arrived since it was promulgated in June.

“The Immigration Authority has yet to receive any order pertaining to the incarceration of Sudanese infiltrators,” the state attorney wrote on October 25 in response to a legal challenge by advocates for immigrants. It added that if such a decision is ever taken, “it will be stated publically by the authority, 30 days before going into effect.”

The estimated 15,000 Sudanese nationals who are seeking asylum as refugees in Israel had been in a state of panic, as the Interior Ministry was expected to start its operation by the end of the month. But the revelation, which came on the eve of the Muslim holy festival Eid al-Adha, meant that the Sudanese illegals celebrated the holiday in a jubilant mood.

“It was very good news, coming as we started the festival, making people very happy,” Bahad Adam, a Sudanese man who has been in Israel for five years, told the Forward.

Yishai, who has famously declared war on African immigrants and accused them of being AIDS-ridden criminals, would not comment on the extraordinary legal slap in the face. It was also not clear why government officials did not disown the much-ballyhooed crackdown earlier.

Questioned on the matter, an official from the Prime Minister’s office said only: “The Prime Minister respects the decisions of the Israeli court system.”

A controversial new amendment to Israel’s Prevention of Infiltration Law means that anybody who entered Israel since it entered the statute books in June can be imprisoned for lengthy periods. But in August, Yishai announced that he planned to round up and imprison all asylum seekers, even those who arrived before the law took effect.

After Yishai’s announcement, human rights groups and advocacy organizations representing illegals petitioned Jerusalem District Court to block the move. The United Nations refugee agency echoed their concerns. The including in their court papers an appendix by the United Nations Refugee Agency which echoed their concerns. American Jews have also expressed concerns over the planned round-up.

It was in response to this petition that the State Attorney admitted that Yishai’s plan lacked any government authorization.


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