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Monday, June 24, 2013

Israeli: Detention center for Africans a 'prison'

JERUSALEM (AP) — Hundreds of African migrants are languishing in a desert detention center in southern Israel, where families may only meet once a week and where women and children sleep in a prison-like compound, according to lawmakers who caught a rare glimpse.

The visit to Sahronim center by a parliamentary delegation has allowed a look into the facility that plays a key role in Israel's attempt to stem the tide of thousands of African migrants who have crossed the long desert border with Egypt to the Jewish state in recent years.

Israel, like other developed countries in Europe and around the Mediterranean, is a magnet for asylum seekers and economic migrants.

Critics counter that most are job seekers attracted to Israel's wealthy economy and plentiful jobs in hotels, restaurants and cleaning.

Israeli authorities say a detention facility discourages migrants by denying them a livelihood, and claim conditions at Sahronim are adequate.

"There is no doubt one of the reasons we had such a flow of illegal economic migrants into Israel was because the economy was such a magnet," said Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev.

"The cells have steel doors," the woman, whose name was redacted, said in testimony to the advocacy group, Hotline for Migrant Workers.

A video smuggled out of Sahronim by a member of the lawmakers' delegation this week and given to Israeli media showed men standing behind fences.

Countries like Greece, Cyprus, Malta, Italy, which face the largest waves of migrants, also hold them in crowded detention centers that are widely criticized by rights groups.

African migrants designated as refugees may be released, but advocates say Israel has dragged its feet on thousands of refugee applications it has received.