African migrants transport vegetables in south Tel Aviv 370.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
A simple misconception needs to be cleared up regarding Israel’s African migrant
problem. While many human rights activists claim that they are mostly
asylum-seekers fleeing persecution, the reality is that the vast majority of
these migrants are motivated primarily by economic factors.
examination of the migration rates provides evidence that the migrants –
numbering 53,636 as of October, most of them men between the ages of 16 and 30,
according to Population, Immigration and Border Crossings Authority statistics –
are coming for reasons other than self-preservation.
In the first half of
2012, the number of migrants entering Israel averaged around 1,500 a month. But
in July there was a sharp drop to just 200, and the numbers have continued to
fall in each month since. In December, just 37 migrants made their way into
The barrier erected on the Israel-Egypt border, aimed at
preventing the entry of migrants, terrorists and smugglers, does not explain
this sudden drop in the numbers of migrants. The main section of the 230 km.
barrier was not completed until December 2012. Yet, the number of migrants began
dropping drastically months before then.
That being the case, what
happened to cause such a significant fall in the number of African migrants
making their way into Israel via Sinai? In June 2012, the government began
implementing an amendment to the law for preventing illegal border crossing,
designed to take away Africans’ economic incentive for migrating to
In that month, Israel began to place all new migrants in a
detention center for a maximum potential duration of three years. All of the
migrants’ humanitarian needs were taken care of. But while migrants who were
already in Israel were allowed to continue to work, none of the new arrivals
were allowed to proceed to south Tel Aviv to search for gainful employment and
begin sending money to family and friends back home. (The average salary in
Eritrea is $420 a year.) The word got around quickly among Eritreans and
Sudanese contemplating taking the risk of coming to Israel, and there was a
sudden drop in migration numbers.
In mid-September of this year, however,
the High Court of Justice argued in a 9-0 decision that the amendment’s
allowance of three years in prison was an infringement of Basic Law: Human
Dignity and Liberty. Nevertheless, a few justices – including Supreme Court
President Asher Grunis – indicated that if the detainment period were shortened
and the detainees allowed to leave the detention center during the day, they
would accept that infringement as necessary to stop migrants seeking employment
from coming to Israel.
Many in the government, including Interior
Minister Gideon Sa’ar, understand this balance between ethics and pragmatism.
Consequently, a new migrant bill is being drafted that is designed to eliminate
the economic incentive for coming to Israel without seriously infringing
The new legislation shortens the detention time from
three years to a year. Also, the detention center, which will be able to hold
3,300 and is located in southern Holot, will be open. Food, sleeping quarters,
medical treatment and education will be provided. No children will be held in
these detention centers. Those housed in the detention center will not be
allowed to work. Countries such as Germany, Switzerland, Spain and Australia
have created similar detention centers to deal with their own migrant
In parallel, economic incentives will be offered to those
migrants – both in the detention center and among those currently employed – who
of their own volition agree to return to their country of origin. Sa’ar proposes
raising the amount of money offered to each migrant who agrees to leave from
$1,500 to $3,500. All additional expenses, such as plane fare and other
traveling costs, will also be covered by Israel.
Those Africans who are
truly asylum-seekers and face persecution or death in their countries of origin
will be provided with all their basic humanitarian needs. But anyone considering
coming to Israel to improve his or her economic situation will need to think