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