March 12, 2013 - 12:00am

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) joined a petition filed by human rights organizations to the Supreme Court against the Israeli law of infiltration and asked to revoke it, local media reported Tuesday.

The UNHCR's unprecedented move is an attempt to overturn a law which it claims "wrongly stigmatizes and penalizes those seeking refuge."

"UNHCR has direct interest in the outcome of this petition, as it raises a number of legal issues relating to entry, detention and removal of refugees and asylum seekers," it wrote, deeming that the law violates human rights and does not confirm with international human rights' protocols.

In January 2012, the Knesset (parliament) passed several amendments as the "security measure" regarding the infiltration law. Among others, the law permits detaining all those in Israel who can not be deported to their countries of origin as it is too dangerous there.

The law enables to lock up asylum seekers for up to three years, after which it will reconsider their status, and it does not differentiate between asylum seekers, refugees and illegal migrants.

"The law does not differentiate between migrant workers and refugees or asylum seekers. They're all included in an infiltrator category. This law is stigmatizing and doesn't take into account special position of refugees and asylum-seekers under international law, or their vulnerability," the UNHCR wrote.

"Beyond an initial security screening, the automatic detention of refugees classified as infiltrators on the sole reason of having entered Israel irregularly does not meet international standards," the UNHCR wrote.

The law also permits the state to detain children. In response, the UNHCR wrote in its statement to the court that "children who are seeking asylum should in principal not be detained."

The amendments to the law were made in the past year as outgoing interior minister Eli Yishai declared his plan to repatriate nearly 60,000 African migrants living in Israel, including repatriation of several thousand migrants and the detention of others deemed unlawful by the Attorney General, who ordered last week not to deport any Eritrean migrants until further notice.

Thousands of Sudanese and Eritrean illegal migrants have already been arrested.

Yishai claimed that the migrants possess a "danger" to the state of Israel and its Jewish characteristics. The government completed a 240-km fence along the Egyptian-Israeli border to prevent migrants from infiltrating into the country.


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