By Dana Weiler-Polak

Tags: israel news, migrant workers

Out of 221 people who appeared before the custody tribunal after being detained over the past two weeks by the Immigration Authority’s Oz unit, 65 percent are asylum-seekers from Sudan and Eritrea who cannot be deported and have been released by the tribunal judge. Figures about the unit’s activities collected by the Hotline for Migrant Workers over the past two weeks show that another 16 percent of those detained came to Israel legally and lost their residency status because they left their employer.

These figures contrast with statements by the unit that it detains only illegal residents, and holds refugees with proper documentation only in order to take them to the area where they are permitted to live, beyond the central coastal plain region known as “Gedera-Hadera.”

The figures will be presented Tuesday to a Knesset committee examining the problems of foreign workers. The report, which surveys the first two weeks of activity by Population Authority’s Oz unit, is based on visits by Hotline volunteers at Givon Prison, where most of those rounded up in the operations are being detained, and from the analysis of the rulings of the custody tribunal at the prison.

“The refugees, who constitute the majority of those detained, are not allowed to be deported,” notes the report. “Their unnecessary arrest, when frequently they have come to Tel Aviv only to visit family or for medical care, constitutes a desperate attempt to break their spirit, and an unnecessary waste of the taxpayers’ money.”

The report notes that during its first two weeks of activity, the Oz unit arrested 141 asylum-seekers, of whom 70 were from Eritrea and 71 from Sudan, who were detained for contravening the conditions of their asylum by being present in the Gedera-Hadera area.

Refugees from Eritrea and Sudan cannot be deported, according to the directives of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

According to the “Gedera-Hadera” rule, instituted in February 2008, people who infiltrated Israel illegally or received work permits for humanitarian reasons may reside only north of Hadera or south of Gedera.

The report also states that 35 people, or 16 percent of those detained, are workers who came to Israel with permits to work as caregivers, or in agriculture or construction, but whose permit ran out. Five of the detainees lost their permit because their employer died, moved them illegally to another employer, or did not want them any more. Only 45 of the detainees, or 20 percent, overstayed their tourist visa to work here, or entered via the porous Egyptian border.

During the past two weeks, eight unaccompanied minors have been sent to Givon prison – seven Egyptian citizens and one Sudanese. There are also 18 women among the 221 people.

The Hotline report also suggests that the tribunal has not been consistent in its rulings. Some detainees are released after they show proof they have a place to live outside the Gedera-Hadera region; others only after posting a monetary bond as well. The only standard seems to be that “there is no debate that a detainee who is Eritrean or Sudanese cannot be deported in the near future,” attorney Elad Azar, who serves as the judge of the custody tribunal, wrote.

The head of the foreigners division in the Interior Ministry, Yossi Edelstein, said: “If a person has broken the state’s rules, he becomes liable to arrest. [Compliance with] the rules is neither voluntary nor a recommendation, and the state must enforce its laws and directives. The Oz unit arrested refugees who have contravened procedures, [and did so] in the framework of enforcement of the state’s laws.”