Eritrean migrants in Tel Aviv..
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
What would you do if you were given NIS 64 cash and brought to a bus stop in the Negev? That was the conundrum facing 1,200 African migrants who were released this week from the Holot detention center.
Most of the migrants had been detained in Holot for 20 months and would have continued to languish there until the High Court of Justice ruled that the state’s detention period was unconstitutional for being disproportionately long.
Forced to comply, but intent on having the last word against the court and the pesky issue that he would like to have go away, Interior Minister Silvan Shalom opened the gates of Holot and went to the nearest ATM to withdraw NIS 64 x 1,200. But in an ‘I’ll show you who’s boss’ move, he added a restriction that banned the freed migrants from working or living in Tel Aviv or Eilat, two areas already heavily populated by their brethren.
So, instead of helping the liberated prisoners get on their feet and travel to friends and relatives who were possibly already established with homes and jobs, the government of Israel provided them with enough money to buy a McDonald’s Happy Meal and a bus trip to Beersheba.
That takes them to dinnertime – then what? Chances are that a good number of the migrants will become homeless within days, with no shelter and no money for food. That was the government’s answer to the court’s ruling.
One of the released migrants, Anwar Solomon from Darfur in Sudan, told reporters that while he was “very happy after more than one year and eight months to be free,” and to have “our respect returned,” he was upset that the “state did not take responsibility” for the migrants. Solomon added that the prohibition against living and working in Tel Aviv and Eilat is “a problem.”
It’s not just a problem for him and his countrymen. Shalom’s short-sighted policy will only create more crime, unrest and misery. Is 1,200 such a huge number that prohibited a few social workers and job placement professionals from being assigned to ease the migrants’ transition? Thankfully, the private sector stepped up a little – there were some representatives from hotels in the Dead Sea area who greeted the released migrants outside Holot and agreed to hire some of them. But for the rest, with nowhere to go and no funds to get there, their stint at Holot will nostalgically be looked on in light of being thrown out into the harsh, cold world of modern Israel.
While we tout ourselves as a progressive bunch full of compassion, integration and striving for tikkun olam, in essence we’re not really interested in helping these people – many of them from Eritrea or Sudan who cannot be deported due to fears of persecution if returned.
As a society, it’s incumbent upon us and our government to step up and help the migrants who are here – not throw them to the elements when forced to end a horrible policy by the High Court.
How will we respond? That’s the NIS 64 question.