MKs trade proposals for addressing migrant issue

Immigration authority official tells MKs that "infiltrators" will soon begin trying to enter Israel by way of Jordan.

Eritrean migrants living in Tel Aviv 370 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Eritrean migrants living in Tel Aviv 370
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Israel must find responsible and serious ways of dealing with the illegal migrant issue and not succumb to hysteria, MK Nitzan Horovitz (Meretz) said on Monday, during a meeting of the Knesset Committee on Foreign Workers.
He presented a multi-step plan for handling the issue.
Horovitz, the committee’s chairman, said Israel must finish building the fence on the Egyptian border, take measures to break up the smuggling gangs trafficking migrants to Israel, step up the examination of requests for refugee status, invest more in organizing the return of those not eligible for refugee status, and ensure that the holding facility to be built in the South maintains suitable living standards.
He also said Israel should enroll some children of migrants in Israel boarding schools and award agricultural work permits to migrants, who would replace farm workers from Thailand.
On the diplomatic front, Horovitz said that Israel should increase diplomatic efforts in Africa and the West to find countries willing to share the migrant burden.
Yossi Edelstein from the Population, Immigration and Borders Authority told the meeting that recent assessments were that “infiltrators” would soon begin trying to enter Israel by way of Jordan, and called on the government to begin building an improved barrier on the eastern border.
During the committee meeting, Avshalom Vilen, head of the Israel Agricultural Workers Association, said farmers were willing and able to employ thousands of asylum-seekers, as did Yoav Bachar from the Israel Hotels Association, who said there were around 3,000 openings in the industry that needed to be filled, mainly menial jobs such as dish washing and housekeeping.
MK Danny Danon (Likud) issued a harsh rebuke of the employment proposal, saying “If they are able to work in Israel, infiltrators will have incentive to come here.”
He also said that he heard from the Eritrean ambassador that in his country’s capital Asmara there is a neighborhood called Tel Aviv, full of detached homes built with money sent back by Eritreans in Israel.
Addressing NGOs and other supporters of the African migrants, Danon said, “What you are doing is bringing Africa to Tel Aviv. You have good intentions, but if you want to help them, go to Africa and help them, don’t bring Africa to Pardes Katz, Bat Yam and Tel Aviv.”
MK Yaakov Katz (National Union) agreed, saying that if migrants knew that they would be able to work in Israel, “a million or a million and a half will come here,” adding that he is in favor of a detention facility and the refusal of employment, which would cause the migrants to ask to be sent home with a government stipend.
Sharon Harel of the United Nations High Commission on Refugees said that refugee-status determination must be carried out for every person who crosses Israel’s border, and that those who are determined to be refugees must not be kept in the detention facility to be built in the South.
Also on Monday, the Knesset Internal Affairs and Environmental Committee held a meeting on the issue of violence and incitement against migrant workers.
During the meeting, committee chairman Amnon Cohen (Shas) condemned violence against migrants, saying that it “goes against the principles of Judaism.”
Cohen blamed the government for failing to deal with the infiltration issue and to prevent the migrants from moving en masse to disadvantaged neighborhoods, a phenomenon that he said had been the cause of violence against them.
Representatives of the Foreign Ministry who were supposed to attend the meeting announced at the last minute that they would not be able to take part because they were on a “fun day” held for ministry employees.
During the meeting, Yiftach District Police chief Cmdr. David Gaz, whose jurisdiction covers south Tel Aviv and Jaffa, said, “We are witnessing severe cases of violence [against migrants] and we must not allow even verbal violence against them.”
He added that the crime rate among migrants doubles each year and that in the neighborhoods where they are concentrated, they commit around 50 percent of the crimes.
The committee called on the government to find a solution to the infiltrators issue, to increase police patrols in places where African migrants are concentrated, to have the public discourse on the issue change and get rid of the verbal violence and incitement, to call on the Foreign Ministry to find ways to get them out of the country, and to condemn all violence against foreigners.
Kadima Party chairman and Vice Premier Shaul Mofaz said on Monday that the migrants “are not refugees. They came illegally to look for work and do damage to Israel. The 1,500 to 2,000 who come in monthly must be stopped. The [Sinai] fence must be completed. The next goal should be to return them to their country of origin, as they [the state] has started.”
Mofaz is reportedly considering appealing Sunday’s decision by the Ministerial Committee on Legislation to provide government backing for a bill that would increase the maximum punishment for employing illegal migrant workers from two to five years.
The bill will come to a vote in the Knesset on Wednesday, unless Mofaz files an appeal.
Coalition chairman Ze’ev Elkin expressed confidence that the bill would pass with or without Kadima’s support.