Yishai introduces plan to stem migration from Africa

Interior Minister: Situation will be ‘catastrophic’ if fence not completed soon and employers don’t stop hiring illegals.

November 23, 2010 04:19
Yishai introduces plan to stem migration from Africa

Yishai. (photo credit: AP)

Interior Minister Eli Yishai presented the government’s four-pronged plan to stop the migration of Africans into Israel in a Knesset Foreign Workers Committee meeting on Monday.

According to Yishai, who is also the chairman of Shas, the plan, once passed in the Knesset, will save Israel from the threat of a “national disaster” posed by increasing numbers of incoming migrants.

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Israel is currently home to 31,000 African migrants – 60 percent of them from Eritrea, 30% from Sudan and the rest from other various African countries.

Yishai began his address to the committee by congratulating the Defense Ministry on the building of fences along the southern border to keep migrants out. Construction on that project began this week.

The fence, which was the first element of the plan, will include both physical barriers and an advance alert system that can warn the military of approaching people attempting to infiltrate the country.

Defense Ministry directorgeneral Udi Shani, who also attended the meeting, said that with the existing budget, the ministry was only capable of constructing a fence along 140 kilometers of the 250-kilometer border, but Shani said he felt sure that additional funding would be approved to fill in the gap.

He also said that the Defense Ministry had recruited three contractors to complete the works, but anticipated that construction would take two and a half years.

Yishai urged the Defense Ministry to hire additional contractors and speed up the work, stating that unless the barrier is completed within months, the situation would be “catastrophic.” He also said that the physical barrier would need to be augmented by increased military personnel to patrol the borders, specifically the places where there is no fence.

The second element of the government’s plan was the construction of a large detention facility on the border with Egypt, capable of holding up to 10,000 people.

“In this facility, the detained migrants will be classified and their legal status determined. Those who are refugees will be allowed in and those who are economic migrants will be turned back to where they came. The refugees will be provided with food, shelter and medical care and will stay in the facility,” said Yishai. Yishai said the facility would be open, but that people would not be allowed to work.

The third element of the plan, and the one that Yishai said was the most important, was the strict enforcement against Israeli employers who hire the African migrants.

“We have to make sure that they are not allowed to work here. Only that will stop the flood. I have instructed the director-general of the Population, Immigration and Borders Authority (PIBA) to begin strict enforcement against such employers,” said Yishai. “Let it be know that anyone who hires an African migrant is breaking the law. We plan to fight this very strictly with harsh penalties and steep fines beginning January.”

Yishai conceded that the existing enforcement of the law that forbids the hiring of migrants is lacking but said that legislation and a buildup of enforcement personnel would enable a zerotolerance approach.

PIBA director-general Amnon Ben-Ami said at the meeting that the only thing preventing his inspectors from prosecuting employers was the lack of an alternative source of subsistence for the workers. Ben-Ami said that once the facility to provide the migrants with their basic needs is in place, they would begin enforcing the prohibition against employers.

“Enforcement is not being practiced solely out of concern for the basic needs of the infiltrators and not for any other reason,” said Ben-Ami.

The authorities have been prevented from enforcing the law against employing migrants in part because of a court ruling that said that unless the state was prepared to provide the subsistence needs of the migrants, it could not prevent them from working.

Yishai said that removing the economic incentive for the migrants to enter the country would go a long way toward stopping more from coming because once word was out that people could no longer work, people would no longer desire to come.

The fourth element of the plan was to work toward removing those migrants that have already entered Israel. Yishai said that it was up to the Justice Ministry and the Foreign Affairs Ministry to negotiate with countries that Israel has diplomatic relations with and try to convince them to accept the African migrants.

“More than half of the migrants come from Eritrea, a country that Israel has relations with. We can return them [the Eritrean migrants] to their homeland by talking to the government. Thirdparty countries can take those whom Israel doesn’t have relations with,” said Yishai.

Yishai also took the opportunity to reply to those who criticized his policies and ideas.

“I urge those who think I have horns to visit the poor neighborhoods of southern Tel Aviv, neighborhoods that have been swarmed by infiltrators and are collapsing, places where women, children and the elderly are afraid to go out at night… I’d like to send 30 or 40 infiltrators to their neighborhoods and here what they have to say afterwards,” he said.

“I am more sensitive and more merciful than all those who speak against me,” said Yishai. “If we don’t practice a clear, tough and decisive policy, in 20 or 30 years, the country will be overrun by infiltrators harming the demographic character of the country.”

Committee chairman Ya’acov Katz (National Union) said that the most significant action Israel could take was to stop allowing the migrants to work.

“As soon as they send out a text message to their friends and relatives waiting in Egypt that they are not allowed to work, the flood will stop.”

Kadima MK Orit Zuaretz said that Yishai’s statements revealed a state of chaos and a system-wide failure to address the problems. She said that Israel had to address the problem of migrants on an international level and not attempt to address it by itself. She suggested that the state work on two levels – one to take care of those migrants that were already living in the country and another to work together with the international community to find a way to provide them a safe return to their countries of origin.

In response to Yishai’s statements, the Migrant Workers Hotline released information regarding Eritreans’ recognition as refugees in other countries. According to their data, 88% of Eritrean asylum-seekers around the world have been granted recognition as refugees, while in Israel none of the Eritrean migrants were granted refugee status.

“Israel refuses to examine asylum requests from Eritrean and Sudanese citizens and therefore no Eritreans were recognized as such,” read the statement by the Migrant Workers Hotline.

Eritrean and Sudanese citizens are given collective protection in Israel by virtue of their nationality and cannot be turned away in accordance to the United Nations treaty on the rights of refugees. However Israel’s refusal to allow them to enter a process of refugee status determination means they are not formally recognized as refugees.

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