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Israeli court invalidates law that allows asylum seekers to be jailed

September 16, 2013|By Edmund Sanders
  • Israeli troops guard a group of Africans who attempted to cross illegally from Egypt into Israel.
Israeli troops guard a group of Africans who attempted to cross illegally… (Ariel Schalit / Associated…)

JERUSALEM -- Israel’s Supreme Court on Monday tossed out a controversial law that allowed police to jail refugees and undocumented migrants for up to three years without trial, a key part of the government’s recent crackdown against mostly African asylum seekers who had been flooding into the country.

A panel of nine High Court judges ruled unanimously that the Law for Prevention of Infiltration -- which took effect in 2012 -- violated human rights.

An estimated 2,000 asylum seekers, mostly from Eritrea and other African nations, are believed to be in Israeli detention facilities.

The court told the government that it would have to review each case individually over the next three months.

Critics had long complained that the automatic imprisonment of asylum seekers as they crossed the border was a violation of Israeli and international law.

But proponents of the law said it helped dramatically reduce the number of refugees and migrants streaming into Israel via the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt. The number of Africans crossing the border in the first six months of 2013 was just 34, compared with 9,570 in 2012.

The government this year began deporting Eritrean refugees from Israeli jails back to their homeland. Officials characterized the deportations as voluntary, but refugee activists insist that the asylum-seekers were pressured and denied legal representation.

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