Detention of Asylum Seekers in Israel

This section is an overview of detention legislation, facilities, and persons who are exempt from detention in Israel.

The detention of asylum-seekers and other foreigners is governed by several laws. Learn more about some of these laws in the Legislation section.

The 1952 Law on Entry into Israel 

According to the 1952 Law on Entry into Israel, those apprehended within Israel without a valid visa are subject to detention for up to 60 days, with detention reviewed by the ‘Immigration Detention Review Tribunal’ within 96 hours and thereafter every 30 days. Detention beyond the 60-day period is permitted under this law if release would harm public health or the order or security of the State, or if the detainee fails to cooperate with his deportation from the country.

Asylum-seekers and other foreigners are detained under the “non-cooperation clause” of the Law on Entry into Israel if their nationality is disputed by the Ministry of Interior, or because of their unwillingness or inability to return to their country of origin. The “non-cooperation clause” was also used in the first quarter of 2018 to detain over 340 Eritrean and Sudanese asylum-seekers who refused to be relocated to Rwanda under the secret agreement reported to have been concluded between the two countries.

Those who fit the criteria for forced relocation (i.e. single men who had not applied for asylum as of 1 January 2018) were given a pre-deportation order and, in a hearing, were informed that they had 60 days (for those outside of Holot) or 30 days (for those residing in Holot) to decide whether they were willing to relocate and that, if they refused, they would be transferred to detention for failing to cooperate with their removal from the country. When the forced relocation policy crumbled in early April 2018, the majority of those 340 asylum-seekers detained in Saharonim were released.   

The Criminal Outline and its impact on persons of concern 

The Outline for the Coordination of the Treatment of Infiltrators involved in Criminal Activities between the Israeli Police and the Population, Immigration and Border Authority (the “Criminal Outline”) is a cooperation procedure between the Ministry of Interior and the Israeli Police. It allows for the detention of asylum seekers suspected of involvement in criminal activities or who have finished serving a criminal sentence.

The Criminal Outline has been applied to foreigners who committed minor offences but may not pose a threat to public safety or state security, and to Eritreans and Sudanese on the grounds of “threat to public order”, which is not permissible grounds under the outline.

The Anti-Infiltration Law

Under the 1954 Anti-Infiltration Law, anyone entering Israel irregularly, including asylum-seekers, is defined as an “infiltrator” and is automatically detained.

The detention period under Amendment Three to the Anti-Infiltration Law was originally a three-year sentence, later reduced to one year in Amendment Four. Both Amendments were eventually ruled unconstitutional and struck down by the Israeli Supreme Court, through the Adam judgment– Bagatz 7147/12 from 2012 and the Gabrislasi judgmentBagatz 8425/13 from 2013. The detention period was then reduced to the current three-month period by Amendment Five.  

Under the Anti-Infiltration Law, asylum seekers may be detained for up to 120 consecutive days for grounds such as failing to renew visas on time or violating geographic limitations. The Law allows for the early conditional release of an asylum-seeker on limited grounds, such as health conditions (including mental health), special humanitarian reasons, or if the detainee is an unaccompanied child. It also allows for the release of an asylum-seeker after a sixty-day period if their asylum request has yet to be processed, but this provision is not applied in practice. For single Eritrean and Sudanese asylum-seekers, “release” was often a transfer to the Holot detention facility until its closure in March 2018.

Since the construction of the Egypt-Israel border fence (June 2012), there has been a marked decrease in new arrivals that would be subject to detention under the Anti-Infiltration Law, from over 12,000 in mid-2012 to only 22 in 2014; 220 in 2015; 18 in 2016, and 0 since May 2016.

Detention Facilities 

In 2002, the Government’s plan to arrest and deport 50,000 undocumented migrants spurred the development of Israel’s immigration detention infrastructure, including the expansion of Maasiyahu Prison, a holding facility for undocumented migrants; In the early days, the Southern border prison facility Ketziot opened a section for immigrants, which was later extended to a nearby separate facility Saharonim; the establishment of Tzohar Prison in the south; the conversion of Nazareth’s Renaissance Hotel into an immigration detention facility; and the conversion of Hadera’s Michal Prison from a women’s detention facility to unaccompanied minors facility called Matan. The Holot semi-open immigration facility was last to be established near Saharonim, close to the Southern border of Israel. Immigration Facility Simultaneously, a special police unit was created to locate and detain undocumented migrants and the “Immigration Administration” was established.

Today, the two facilities used for administrative detention are:

  • Yahalom – the airport detention facility, run by the Ministry of Interior. Foreigners (primarily migrants) who are either refused entry into the country or who were unlawfully residing in the country are detained here prior to deportation;
  • Givon Prison in Ramle/Lod.

From 2013 to 2018, Eritrean and Sudanese single males arrested under the Anti-Infiltration Law were automatically transferred to the ‘Holot’ Facility in the Negev Desert, established under Amendment Four of the Anti-Infiltration Law in December 2013.

Their enforced residence period at Holot was originally set for an indefinite duration, then limited to 20 months, and finally reduced to a maximum period of 12 months following court litigation of the Supreme Court. Non-compliance with summons to Holot and violations of Holot’s disciplinary rules were grounds for detention under the Anti-Infiltration Law. Residents were obliged to report on a daily basis, stay overnight, and not allowed to work anywhere within Israel.

Holot was closed in mid-March 2018 following the amendment of the Anti-Infiltration Law in December 2017 and in light of the intended activation of the forced relocation policy. When the forced relocation policy ended in April 2018, all those hundreds who were detained for refusing to cooperate with their removal were released. Since then, the number of detained asylum-seekers has been drastically reduced.

Saharonim closed in May 2020 due to the low number of detainees. Remaining residents were transferred to Givon Prison.

Detention Exceptions: Victims of Trafficking and Unaccompanied Children

Victims of Trafficking

Once released from detention, a government-recognized victim of trafficking is referred to the Ministry of Welfare for provision of a one-year rehabilitation package that includes a voluntary stay at a state-run shelter funded by the Ministry of Welfare, a B/1 work visa granted by the Head of the Population, Immigration, and Border Authority (PIBA), and health services funded by the Ministry of Health. These services are not automatic and must be triggered by individual applications.

Following the one-year rehabilitation period, a victim of trafficking is normally expected to return to their country of origin. If they are from a country to which Israel does not deport, such as Eritrea and Sudan, or afraid to return to their country of origin due to persecution or conflict, they may file an asylum request with the Ministry of Interior. Upon doing so, they receive the “conditional release” visa that all asylum-seekers receive while their request is pending, and which is renewable every few months. Requests to extend a visa are usually only approved in exceptional circumstances.

Unaccompanied Children

UNHCR’s policy is that children should never be held in immigration detention. This can never be considered to be in the child’s best interest, which must be a primary consideration under the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Indeed, unaccompanied children in Israel are exempt by law from both detention and mandatory residence facilities.

Previously, once identified as an unaccompanied child, s/he was released from detention and transferred to the “Matan” facility in Hadera, an “absorption and support facility for youth” run by the Israeli Prison Services.

Since Matan’s closure in September 2013, unaccompanied children may await identification for long periods at Givon, a detention facility where minor girls are housed alongside adult women from various countries.

Following their identification, unaccompanied children are to be released from detention and either accommodated in residential schools under the supervision of the Ministry of Education or to reside in the community with a guardian.