No quick fix for migrants

The fence should long since have been completed, the holding facility is no quick fix and the negotiations with other countries will likely lead nowhere.

By
December 2, 2010 00:42
4 minute read.
A family of African migrants outside the Knesset (file)

311_African migrants. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)

 
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The cabinet’s decision Sunday to begin taking active steps toward stopping the infiltration of African migrants from across the Egyptian border (passed with only two objections) reflects a vital imperative, one that previous governments failed to address altogether.

However, in its rush to protect the country from a perceived threat to its demographic Jewish character, the government must take care not to compromise Israel’s moral Jewish character by abandoning commitments to human rights and denying protection for those in genuine need. And it shouldn’t mislead the public into thinking that its latest measures will solve the migrant problem.

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The government’s plan, as presented by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu earlier this week, consists of four major elements: building a physical barrier along the southern border, enforcing the prohibition on employment of migrants, building a holding facility to house illegal migrants and entering agreements with other countries to absorb those migrants who already reside in the country.

The government passed the decision to build a physical barrier along its southern border in August and can only be criticized for waiting for so long before commencing construction. The barrier will go a long way towards reducing the influx of migrants, which is estimated at roughly 1,200 people a month.

The next two elements, the construction of the new housing facility and enforcing regulations against employers of migrants, go hand in hand and have to do with reducing the economic incentives for the migrants to come here. The government has stated that it won’t begin enforcement against employers until the facility is up and running, out of concern for the sustenance of the migrant population; until the state can provide the migrants with an alternative means to meet their basic physical needs of food, shelter and medical treatment, it doesn’t have the legal or moral right to forbid them to work.

What should give the public pause is the adequacy of the center to meet the needs of all the migrants already in the country, never mind those who will enter in the six months it will take to build the facility. By the government’s own reckoning, there are more than 30,000 African migrants currently in Israel. It is unclear, to put it mildly, how a center planned to house 10,000 people will cater to the needs of 30,000 out-of-work migrants.

The intended solution, apparently, lies in the fourth element of the plan, reaching out to African countries in hopes that they might be willing to take in the migrants that Israel wants to expel. While the prime minister has instructed the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to negotiate with African governments, there are few who expect any country to take in a significant number. Many countries have their own share of refugee problems, without taking on Israel’s.



The government also risks misleading the public when it refers to the facility as an “open housing center.”

According to the proposal that the ministers voted on, the facility will only remain “open” pending legislation of the Anti Infiltration Bill, after which it will be for all intents and purposes a prison for people who violated the entrance law.


The government is also in danger of believing its own spin and assuming that all those arriving in Israel are economic migrants and not refugees or legitimate asylum seekers.

Furthermore, one only has to hear of the horrors that many of the migrants suffer on their way to Israel – including beatings, starvation, torture and rape at the hands of the Beduin smugglers – to realize the determination that the migrants have to get to Israel. Anyone who is not scared off by those dangers will not likely be swayed from coming when told they will not be allowed to work.

EVERY COUNTRY has the right to determine who enters its borders, and Israel as a sovereign state has the authority to deny entrance from those who wish to harm or take unlawful advantage of its resources. But as a signatory to the United Nations conventions on refugees and as a society made up of former refugees, which seeks to be a light unto the nations, Israel must think long and hard before committing to a course that could cause it to compromise its values.

And the government should not present as an ostensible panacea the belated construction of a proper border fence, an inadequate new holding facility and talks with foreign governments on taking over our problem. The fence should long since have been completed, the holding facility is no quick fix and the negotiations with other countries will likely lead nowhere.

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