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.

In 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.

Cabinet Secretary Zvi Hauser presented the recommendation to a special ministerial committee meeting chaired by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on Monday.

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 infiltrators...

come to Israel in order to work and to remit funds to relatives who have remained in their countries of origin.”

Hauser added 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.

An estimated 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 migrants.

“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 Israel.

“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 stated.

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 the country.

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.”

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