Sole gov't office issuing migrants permits reopens

Lod municipality ordered month-long closure of facility for renovations; activist: Renovations caused ‘serious setbacks’ and people ‘walking the streets.’

January 5, 2011 02:47
3 minute read.
Ministry of Interior Lod office

Ministry of Interior Lod office 311. (photo credit: Ben Hartman)

The Lod office of the Interior Ministry’s Population Immigration and Border Authority opened its doors to the public on Tuesday, after over a month-long closure that NGOs, migrant workers, and asylum- seekers said has caused serious problems for those seeking government papers allowing them to legally reside in Israel without facing the fear of arrest or deportation.

The office is the only one in Israel that gives out “conditional release” permits for illegal migrants once they are released from Israeli detention facilities after entering Israel. The permit isn’t a work visa and doesn’t award refugee status, rather, it gives the holder 90 days to reside in the country legally.

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With the doors of the office closed since the end of November, those who have been sent there to receive the forms or have existing ones renewed have found themselves instead roaming the streets without any proof they can remain in Israel without facing deportation or incarceration.

On November 28, the city of Lod informed the Interior Ministry that they would be closing the facility for a month to do renovations.

The statement added that the renovations would require the use of heavy machinery that could endanger the hundreds of migrants who wait outside the building on weekdays, and asked the ministry to measures to prevent the migrants from gathering outside the building in downtown Lod.

The building is one of the first sights that greet visitors entering Lod. On most days, hundreds of foreigners, the overwhelming majority of them African, throng the front lawn and adjacent sidewalks of the building, across from the old Lod City Hall.

Yoram Ben-Arush, spokesman for the Lod Municipality told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday that the office was closed mainly because of the danger posed by the construction work, but also because “you have hundreds of infiltrators and migrants standing outside in the sun and in the rain, many of them waiting for hours on end and taking care of their needs outside.”

Ben-Arush said the sight of the hundreds of migrants standing outside all day long in the sun and rain creates an “inhumane” eyesore.

He also said the state “must find a way to treat them as human beings, even if they did come as infiltrators.”

Ben-Arush added that the city wants the facility moved out of Lod entirely, saying “it has nothing to do with racism but we already have a weak population in Lod and over the years we have taken in many weak populations including [Palestinian] collaborators and immigrants, we don’t need to take in another weak population here.”

Sabine Haddad, spokeswoman for the Population, Immigration, and Borders Authority, said the decision over the fate of the facility lies with the city of Lod, and that the authority has been given another 6 months until to move the office elsewhere.

She added “no local authority wants this facility in their city, though.”

Dara Levy-Bernstein, who performs her national service at the African Refugee Development Center (ARDC) helping with asylum assistance projects, said the closure of the building caused serious setbacks for many migrants, who need the documents issued at the facility to avoid being thrown back into detention.

“What this closure has meant is that people who are sent here after they’re released aren’t able to receive their 90-day conditional release form and they end up walking the streets without the only sort of document that could keep them from getting arrested.”

Levy-Bernstein added that migrants who have been turned away at the facility have shown up at the Tel Aviv offices of the ARDC “in a panic”, adding that she had heard reports of migrants sleeping on the street outside the facility over the past month, waiting for the doors to open and wary of walking the streets without papers.

On Tuesday, hundreds of Africans crowded inside the building as a heavy rain poured outside. After several hours, migrants began trickling out, clutching their papers, for the first time in over a month.

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