Eritrean demonstrator at rally 370.
(photo credit: Ben Hartman)
The ability of African migrants to send money to their families back home
appears to be in jeopardy, as the Israeli government announced plans this week
to criminalize such money transfers in order to deter future migrants.
a press release on Monday titled “Government increases economic measures to deal
with infiltration into Israel,” the Prime Minister’s Office announced a plan to
amend the “Infiltrators Law” to add a prohibition on the transfer of funds from
Israel by illegal African migrants.
Those caught violating the
prohibition would face a penalty of six months imprisonment or an NIS 29,200
fine. Those caught abetting migrants looking to send funds back home would be
sentenced to imprisonment for one year or an NIS 29,200 fine or double the
amount transferred, whichever is higher.
The so-called Infiltrators Law
was passed in January and allows the State of Israel to jail for up to three
years without trial those caught entering the country illegally.
Secretary Zvi Hauser presented the recommendation to a special ministerial
committee meeting chaired by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on
Hauser said the recommendations were based on the findings of an
interministerial team he chaired, which “gathered data on African infiltrators’
patterns of behavior,” adding that “according to the evaluation, most
come to Israel in order to work and to remit funds to
relatives who have remained in their countries of origin.”
that the government “is taking a series of measures to reduce the economic
attractiveness of the State of Israel vis-à-vis the wave of labor migrants from
Africa,” and that such measures “will lead to a reduction in the motivation to
infiltrate into Israel.”
The majority of Israel’s more than 60,000
migrants hail from Eritrea and cannot legally be returned to the country because
of the danger many of them would face upon return.
10,000-15,000 are natives of Sudan, and cannot be returned because it is an
enemy state that has no relations with Israel.
Nearly all illegal African
migrants in Israel have not gone through refugee status determination (RSD),
meaning that they lack clear status as refugees or economic
“The work of the interministerial team showed that infiltrators
in Israel remit over NIS 500 million annually to their countries of origin, via
proper channels and illegally by couriers. The team’s data also showed that
10,000 infiltrators have bank accounts in Israel,” the Prime Minister’s Office
said on Monday.
The funds could be impounded, the Prime Minister’ Office
said, and migrants will only be able to withdraw them upon leaving
“The draft amendment strikes a balance between the right of the
State of Israel to defend itself against the growing phenomenon of infiltration
and its obligation to respect the human rights of those found on its territory,”
the Prime Minister’s Office said, adding that exceptions will be made for
humanitarian cases or those recognized as refugees, though it did not specify
what a humanitarian case would be.
On Sunday night, the Justice Ministry
circulated a memorandum on the matter and a draft law will be brought to the
Knesset for its first reading within two weeks, the Prime Minister’s Office
The Prime Minister’s Office said the state will instruct the Bank
of Israel, the Money Laundering and Terrorism Financing Prohibition Authority
and the Communications Ministry to ban or freeze financial transfers that they
suspect involve “infiltrator funds.”
The Justice Ministry will also weigh
making the offense punishable under the prohibition of money laundering, in
order to make the penalties more severe.
On Sunday, the Ministerial
Committee on Legislation passed a draft amendment on the foreign workers law
which will tax employers a deposit of NIS 700 per month for every illegal
migrant they employ, which can then be returned to the migrant once they leave
Finally, the Prime Minister’s Office said the Tax Authority
will increase collection efforts of the 20 percent tax put on those who employ
infiltrators which they feel will reduce “the attractiveness of employing
infiltrators over Israeli workers.”
William Tall, the UN High Commission
for Refugees (UNHCR) representative in Israel, said he does not know of any
precedent in the world for a country passing regulations to limit what asylum
seekers do with the money they earn.
“There is also no precedent for a
law jailing asylum seekers for three years upon arrival,” Tall said in reference
to the Infiltrators Law, adding that the new proposal “reflects the government’s
hardening attitude towards asylum-seekers in Israel.”