17. Dezember 2012 · Kommentare deaktiviert für Israel, Abschiebe-Geisterstadt · Kategorien: Israel · Tags: ,

Erecting a ghost town in the desert

Haaretz, Gili Cohen, 11 December 2012


Israel has invested more than NIS 200 million in establishing a detention center for African migrants. Too bad so few of them are coming. Somewhere in the western Negev, between two military bases, the Israeli bureaucracy has vanished. It’s rare to find a construction project in this country where only 10 days separate the decision and the start of work.

Still, despite the investment of millions of shekels, the place remains desolate – just a rusted perimeter fence, a second fence with dangling barbed wire, guard towers, and row after row of green tents. Welcome to the detention facility called the tent city for African migrants, built by the Defense Ministry.

This ambitious project was thought up on June 3 this year. After nearly five years of war against the African migrants, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered the Defense Ministry to craft a solution for people who cross the border – as quickly as possible and for as many people as possible. Four days later he received a complete plan for a tent city housing thousands of people; in a few days work had begun.

The plan was based on the infrastructure of a nearby military base, and it was simple: four rows of tents, each housing 1,000 people – 12 to a tent. And at the edge of the compound, one toilet stall and one shower for every 10 people.

Another row would house the tent city’s administration – the reception and classification center for the migrants, the medical and logistics area, two command areas and the living quarters for the Prison Service wardens who would run the facility.

But today, nearly six months later, the tent city stands empty. The man responsible for security, from a manpower company contracted by the Defense Ministry, says with a half smile that he is guarding „al fadi“ – fadi means empty in Arabic.

Around him is mainly sand. The three young security guards hired by the ministry pass the time in solitude inside the compound. They live in a small prefab house with a television and an electric kettle.

Apart from a visit by a few army units during Operation Pillar of Defense – remains of the soldiers‘ newspapers and food packaging lie by the perimeter fence – the guards are alone there. One of them said that a few days ago a friendly camel visited them. Apart from that, quiet.

According to the state’s reply to a petition by Bimkom – Planners for Planning Rights, the cost of putting up the tent city is estimated at NIS 50 million. The Prime Minister’s Office and Defense Ministry have refused a request by Haaretz to give precise figures for the project. But one can guess the source of the money: the budget cuts at ministries approved by the cabinet a year ago.

Damages if they stop work

When the state submitted its reply in court in July, only one tent complex with room for 1,000 migrants had been put up. The state claimed that if the court ordered the work stopped, the Defense Ministry would suffer millions of shekels in damages due to fines – and the work already done would be damaged.

Last month, after completing more than half the construction, the ministry asked for a freeze on the project. The ministry says that instead of investing more money to continue the construction, the project should be suspended for three months. After that, „We will assess the situation once again,“ the Defense Ministry’s logistics head, Bezalel Treiber, wrote to Haaretz.

The order to establish the tent city was issued when the flow of African migrants was at a peak. In May, 2,031 people crossed the border, according to the Interior Ministry’s Immigration and Population Authority.

After that the number declined steadily, but despite the drop at the end of July, the government officially decided to put up the tent city. Under its decision, which was made after part of the complex had already been built, the site will provide „the basic needs for infiltrators who at the moment cannot be deported to their country of origin or a third country.“

The ministers knew the figures. Two weeks earlier Netanyahu boasted to the cabinet about the drop in the number of African migrants. „This week 64 infiltrators came in, while since the beginning of the month there has been a total of 183 infiltrators,“ he said. „There is no doubt that with everything we have to do, we are changing a trend here. Israel is going in the right direction in dealing with a basic problem that has threatened its Jewish and democratic character.“ But last month, for the first time, the number of African migrants who left Israel was larger than the number who entered.

Still, the work at the tent city continues. According to the state’s reply to the Supreme Court about two weeks ago, the Interior Ministry is apparently unimpressed by the change on the border. „From the figures it emerges that there is a certain variance in the numbers of infiltrators into Israel over the months, and in this context one can see a drop in the months of June to October 2012 compared to the same period a year ago,“ the state said.

The ministry says „the changes, as noted, could stem from a number of factors, among them the situation in Egypt, the focus on the establishment of the barrier along the Egyptian border, and implementation of the law for preventing infiltration whereby deportation orders are issued against infiltrators who cross the Egyptian border (mainly from Eritrea and Sudan ). And they are held in custody in accordance with that law.“

Attorney Michal Michlin-Friedlander of the State Prosecutor’s Office wrote in the response: „Therefore, and taking into account that there has been a variance in the arrival of infiltrators, it is too early to determine whether a long-term change in the trend can be identified.“

Lovely layover facilities

At a recent tour of the tent city, this reporter found space for 2,000 people and a compound intended for the staff. The Defense Ministry has also completed the preparatory work for additional tent areas, but the tents haven’t been put up. The ministry says that if it has to prepare the tent city for operation, it will need less than a month.

Less than a kilometer from there the work continues on the construction of a permanent facility for migrants. One sees a complex that is supposed to serve as a prison for migrants who cannot be deported, for at least three years. If it is built, it will be the largest prison for migrants in the world.

So far the state has invested more than NIS 200 million in establishing the facility. According to the plans, by the end of this month it will be able to house 3,360 people in containers that have been adapted for habitation.

At the same time, infrastructure work for new wings will be completed to make it possible to put up additional structures – containers or tents. But additional structures for the permanent facility have not yet been purchased. Maybe the tents will be transferred there.

„In recent months a drastic drop has been recorded in the number of infiltrators into Israel,“ the Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement provided at Haaretz’s request. „While about six months ago more than 2,000 infiltrators entered, last month about 40 infiltrators crossed the border, and all of them were detained in a layover facility and did not enter Israel’s cities.

„In the wake of the dramatic decline in the number of infiltrators, the building of some of the layover facilities has been suspended because the existing layover facilities answer the needs at the moment.“

The Defense Ministry, meanwhile, says it has „acted in accordance with the government decision for the ministry to build thousands of layover places for infiltrators and to put them at the state’s disposal as soon as possible. Under the government’s decision, the Defense Ministry is responsible for building the facilities, not for staffing them.“


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