The Knesset on Tuesday passed a law allowing foreigners caught illegally entering the country to be held in detention facilities for up to three years, without trial. The law also sets penalties of up to 15 years in prison for Israelis who assist in such infiltrations.
The new regulations, which update a 1954 law passed in response to Palestinian terrorist raids, are meant to stop the flow across the Egyptian border into Israel of tens of thousands of Africans seeking work or asylum. Current regulations allow authorities a much shorter period of detention, in many cases forcing the government to release illegal immigrants.
Opponents of the law said it infringed on human rights, and called its provisions for holding immigrants without trial unconstitutional. The law’s sponsors said that those who provide humanitarian assistance to illegal immigrants already in the country would not be subject to penalty.
Illegal immigration from Africa has become a major concern for Israel. The first wave began in 2005, when a few hundred people fleeing fighting in Sudan travelled through Egypt to seek protection in the country. Tens of thousands of Sudanese, Eritreans and other African nationals soon followed, seeking better living conditions in Israel.