Residents of south Tel Aviv protest against African migrants living in their neighbourhood.
(photo credit: BAZ RATNER/REUTERS)
A bill to extend limitations on migrants’ employment and in other areas, until the government can enact its plan to deport them, is headed to a final vote after approval by the Knesset Interior Committee on Wednesday.
The legislative package included taking into custody migrants who violated the limits of where they can live, limiting their ability to take money out of Israel and the ability of third parties to help them do so, and a three-year extension of the penalties for illegally employing them.
In addition, the Holot open detention center will be kept open for three more months.
Interior Committee chairman David Amsalem (Likud) said the extensions are only temporary because he thinks the migrants should be deported.
“That’s how I see it, as someone who is concerned about the citizens of Israel,” he stated.
In addition, Amsalem asked the police to better enforce the limitations on migrants sending money out of Israel.
Earlier this month, the government approved a plan to close Holot and tell the 40,000 remaining migrants in Israel – 5,000 of whom are children – that they can either leave Israel or go to prison. Channel 10 reported that Rwanda agreed to take the migrants, most of whom are from Eritrea and Sudan, and Israel will pay $5,000 for each one. This week, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also announced that Israel is opening an embassy in Rwanda.
The Population Authority reported to the committee that over half of the 9,189 requests for refugee status that it has received since 2007 were rejected, one was accepted, and the rest are still under review. About a third of those requests were from Sudanese citizens.
The matter of deporting migrants caused a major internal dispute in the Labor party.
Labor leader Avi Gabbay insisted that the party support the government initiative, in a reversal of its previous policy, and several of its MKs vocally opposed doing so.
The only Zionist Union MK present for Wednesday’s vote was Zouheir Bahloul, and he opposed the measure.
“I may not agree with my faction, but I think we need to get rid of this bill and allow the 40,000 refugees to be integrated by spreading them around the country,” Bahloul said.
Meretz MK Tamar Zandberg spoke out against the bill, saying that the policies it seeks to extend did not prove to be effective.
According to Yesh Atid MK Yael German, “reality created a situation in which the refugees stand against residents of south Tel Aviv,” where many of the migrants live, “but it’s possible to make life easier for the residents of south Tel Aviv and compensate them for the difficult time they’ve had, and take care of the refugees.”
German took issue with the fact that the bill labels all the migrants as “infiltrators,” and called for the refugee status requests to be dealt with quickly.
“Our history requires us to give them a place here,” she said.
Tel Aviv City councilman Shlomo Maslawi argued that “if they were really refugees, we wouldn’t hear about them. They’re turning synagogues into bars and selling drugs – the entire infrastructure of neighborhoods in the south is crashing.”
Anti-migrant activist Sheffi Paz asked why migrants aren’t sent to rich neighborhoods, Arab towns or kibbutz’s, saying their representatives in the Knesset oppose deportation.
Following the meeting, Amnesty International Israel called on the country to allow all the migrants to stay.
“The government’s continued torture of the refugees does not help the residents of south Tel Aviv; it makes their situation worse,” the organization stated. “This is a cruel decision that expresses shameful heartlessness by descendants of refugees who forget their past and disrespect basic human rights.”