The State of Israel on Wednesday completed the release of 1,200 African migrants from detention centers in the South, two weeks after the High Court of Justice invalidated the state’s 20-month detention period for migrants as unconstitutional for being disproportionately long.

The facilities had released approximately 600 migrants on Tuesday and released the remaining approximately 600 migrants designated for release on Wednesday.

The court had also partially rejected the petition against the law, ruling that jailing migrants at the Holot detention facility in the Negev in and of itself could be constitutional if the maximum detention period was shorter, with a hint that 12 months might pass muster.

Following the discharge process – which involves providing released migrants with supplies, financial compensation and documentation, and medical certificates for those who need – authorities will provide the asylum-seekers with a release letter, a sandwich and a soft drink.

On Sunday, Interior Minister Silvan Shalom banned the 1,200 now released African migrants from working and living in Tel Aviv or Eilat.

The scope of the restriction and whether it will apply to all hours of the day or just overnight was unclear.

Israel Radio reported on Wednesday that representatives of hotels in the Dead Sea area arrived at the detention centers Wednesday morning as the migrants were due to be released in order to recruit a few dozen of them for jobs.  

Spokeswoman Anat Ovadia for the Hotline for Refugees and Migrants said the release and the idea of dispersing them could have been a major positive move by the state, but that it became negative since there was no plan for what will happen to the migrants.

Asked where most of the migrants would go in light of the restriction against living in Tel Aviv and Eilat, Ovadia said many still did not know where they would end up.

She said there were some lucky ones who formerly worked in hotels in Eilat where the hotel chain was assisting them get jobs within the chain in new areas such as at the Dead Sea or in Jerusalem, but added most were not so fortunate.

Most would take a bus from the detention centers to Beersheba and then try to figure out where they could find jobs, Ovadia said.

The overwhelming majority of the approximately 50,000 African migrants in Israel live in Tel Aviv, and a disproportionately large concentration have for years lived in Eilat, due to the availability of jobs in the hospitality industry and because of its proximity to the Egypt border, where they entered Israel. Most of Israel’s illegal African migrants are from Eritrea or Sudan, and cannot be deported due to fear that they could face persecution if returned or an absence of diplomatic relations with Israel.

Yonah Jeremy Bob The Jerusalem Post