As government plans to deport more than 100,000 illegal foreign workers are set in motion, social rights activists working with the migrants are bracing themselves for another round of human rights violations, The Jerusalem Post was warned on Monday.
"It's history repeating itself," commented Shevy Korzen, executive director of the nonprofit Hotline for Migrant Workers. "I'm not surprised there is all this talk of deporting these workers; whenever there is a difficult economic situation, the government always looks for a scapegoat. Last time this happened, the immigration police were created. It sounds good, but it's only politics."
Korzen was speaking just days after newly appointed Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz announced that he intended to work closely with the recently created Immigration Authority to crack down on illegal migrant workers.
Currently, there are close to 100,000 legal migrant workers in Israel and up to 150,000 here illegally. Most are employed in construction, agriculture and caregiving.
"What they really mean is that they will round up people whose status is not clear, either by their own fault or due to some other reason, and make it difficult for them to stay in the country," continued Korzen. "It will cause terrible harm to many people and will be totally ineffectual."
According to Korzen, the number of illegal aliens in Israel has remained constant in recent years, despite sporadic efforts by the immigration police and different administrations to stem their entrance into the country.
The situation has been exacerbated, some say, by the influx of refugees from Sudan and other parts of Africa, whose status is unclear because Israel has no clear policy on the matter.
"There has been no talk of decreasing permits for legal foreign workers," pointed out Korzen. "So even though they will start deporting some people, they will still end up bringing in others."
A spokesman for the Finance Ministry said the incoming minister had already commissioned the office to create a plan to deport illegal migrant workers, including enforcing laws against employers of illegal workers and instituting higher fines for those who are caught.
"He has asked the office to create a working plan that will combat illegal workers," said the spokesman. "It is clear that these illegals only hurt the economy when so many people are out of work."
Sabine Hadad, spokeswoman for the Interior Ministry, which runs the new Immigration Authority, also said that no hard and fast plans had yet been created. However, she pointed out that this time - now that the authority was under the responsibility of a government office and not the police - the execution of any such action would be totally different from previous efforts.
In the meantime, the Union of Social Workers spoke out Monday against a joint National Insurance Institute-Finance Ministry plan to encourage elderly people to hire Israeli caregivers instead of foreign workers in an attempt to stimulate the job market.
According to the union, the plan, which allows elderly people entitled to a caregiver to utilize an Israeli nurse for an extra four hours at no additional cost, has not been properly tested and does not take into account that most Israelis would be unwilling to work the long hours that foreign workers do.
"We think it's excellent that the government is considering ways to improve the employment terms of Israeli nurses," said David Golan, spokesman for the union. "However, many of the elderly people who need nursing assistance must be cared for 24 hours a day, and there are very few Israelis willing to work such long hours."
A spokesman for the NII refuted the union's claims, however, pointing out that figures collected by the institute indicated that close to 50 percent of elderly people were cared for by Israeli nurses and that the new plan, which goes into effect May 1, would help many elderly citizens.