The commander of the Saharonim detention center, which holds foreigners who have fled their homes in Africa, crossed Sinai and entered Israel illegally, notes that “hundreds come every day; others are released or deported. The difficult decisions are not made at my desk,” says Shimon Bibas, commander of the Negev facility. “We simply do the job as best we can.” For the past three years, Bibas has been in charge of one of the most controversial, and least known, facilities in the country. The media has never been allowed inside before, despite repeated requests. At Saharonim everyone who enters the country illegally in the south is detained; some are persecuted asylum-seekers and victims of rape and torture, some are labor migrants trying their luck in Israel. There, fates are decided: Who will be released into Israel, and who will be deported?
The noise of the construction of the new wing at Saharonim leaves no room for doubt: Israel cannot keep up with the wave of migration. When Saharonim was built in 2004, it had a capacity of a few hundred. Now almost 3,000 are housed there at any given time.
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