African migrants gather outside Interior Ministry in TA.
(photo credit: Ben Hartman)
Hundreds of African migrants gathered outside the Interior Ministry offices in
Tel Aviv on Thursday, in a scramble to renew their one- and two-month condition
release visas in order to not find themselves arrested and sent to detention
facilities in the South.
The scene has played out for weeks in Tel Aviv
and a handful of ministry offices around the country, ever since immigration
authorities began arresting migrants illegally in Israel following the opening
of the Holot open detention facility last month.
Outside the headquarters
in Tel Aviv on Tuesday, around 500, mostly male African migrants crowded outside
the building and over the course of about 20 minutes, the line, which snaked
around the side of the building, did not appear to move. Inside, families of
migrants leaned against a wall and waited.
Those gathered outside showed
off expired conditional release visas, saying that if they don’t get them
renewed they stand to be arrested as soon as they leave the
They said that they used to get them renewed every month or two
months at any of dozens of Interior Ministry offices around the country, but now
for the past few months they are only able to go to Tel Aviv, Haifa, Beersheba
or Eilat for renewals.
Contacted by The Jerusalem Post
on Thursday, the
Population, Immigration and Borders Authority said they recently decided to
reduce the number of offices doing renewals for migrants “in order to make the
process more efficient and provide better service to all of them.”
spokeswoman for PIBA said the decision was supposed to expedite the process but
that “once the arrests began, they all began coming in mass to get their visas
She added that those who aren’t able to get the visas renewed
on the same day they visit are able to get a note saying that they came to the
office, which she said prevents them from getting arrested, an assertion the
In addition, she said that PIBA has begun using Arabic-
and Tigrinya-speaking clerks to run the process, but that it has become more
crowded “because of the fact that infiltrators are hurrying to renew their visas
because of the new law and increased enforcement of PIBA against infiltrators
and their employers,” she said.
According to PIBA figures, since the
Holot facility was opened in mid-December, they have arrested 115 migrants who
have been taken to detention facilities in the Negev.
Also on Thursday,
PIBA said that over the course of 2013, some 2,612 African migrants voluntarily
returned to their home countries, including 1,955 from Eritrea and Sudan. This
includes 295 in December and is a marked increase to their figure of 461 from
The ministry credited the rise to increased enforcement of
anti-migrant regulations, including the new amendment to the anti-infiltration
law, greater enforcement of labor laws against people employing illegal
migrants, and increased economic incentives for those who agree to move back,
which have risen to $3,500 from $1,500 last year.
“willful returns” is a controversial one, especially among African migrants and
their supporters who say that because they are not allowed to legally work in
Israel and face incarceration for indefinite periods of time for being in the
country, the decision to return home is not done voluntarily.