The Israeli government on Sunday approved new draft legislation aimed at curbing illegal immigration after judges quashed an earlier law as repressive, the interior ministry said.
The bill, which was unanimously approved by the cabinet, must now pass three votes in the parliament, or Knesset, before passing into law.
But rights groups denounced the move, saying it made a mockery of the High Court’s decision and would only offer an interim solution to the question of how to deal with asylum seekers and other illegal immigrants.
The new bill determines that anyone entering Israel illegally can be held in Saharonim detention centre for up to three months, after which he or she will be moved to another detention facility called Holot for a period of up to 20 months. Both facilities are deep in the southern Negev desert.
It also lays out stiffer penalties for those employing “infiltrators” - a government term for illegal migrants, most of them Africans who slipped across the border from Egypt.
On September 22, the High Court struck down a law which allowed the government to detain illegal migrants for up to a year without trial.
It also ordered the closure of Holot detention centre within 90 days. There are around 2,000 African detainees currently being held there out of an estimated 48,000 currently living in Israel.
Exactly a year earlier, the court blocked a similar law allowing migrants to be held for up to three years without trial.
Both laws were blocked by the court over the issue of detention without trial, suggesting the new bill could also be torpedoed by the court.
In a joint statement, six local and international rights groups condemned the bill, warning that it too was likely to be shot down by the court in a fresh waste of tax-payers money.
“This new draft law not only ignores the High Court rulings but it will also worsen the situation in south Tel Aviv in whose name the state is imprisoning innocent people,” they said, questioning where the migrants would go after completing the two detention periods.
Most African migrants residing illegally in Israel are from Eritrea, where the regime has been repeatedly accused of widespread human rights abuses, and from conflict-torn Sudan.
Many live in impoverished areas of southern Tel Aviv, triggering protests from local residents.
Migrants should be granted work permits which would allow them to move away from south Tel Aviv and spread out “naturally” around the country, thereby easing the tensions there, the statement said.