Netanyahu decides to grant 3-month stay, bemoans unemployment caused by "stream of illegal aliens."
By RON FRIEDMAN
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu announced Thursday that the wholesale deportation of the children of migrant workers and their families, scheduled to start on Saturday, will be delayed by three months.
During this time, the expulsion campaign conducted by the Interior Ministry's Oz unit will carry on, without including these families, and a policy on how to deal with them will be discussed in the Ministerial Committee for Issues Regarding Employment of Foreign Workers.
"The never-ending flow of illegal residents into Israel during the last few years has led to a situation whereby the percentage of illegal residents in the country is one of the highest in the world, relative to the local population and the number of employees in the job market. This fact increases unemployment among Israelis and significantly alters Israel's internal demographics," read an announcement issued by the Prime Minister's Office.
Netanyahu instructed the finance and justice ministers to develop legislation that will increase enforcement and punishment of Israelis who employ illegal workers, which will come before the Knesset when it opens its winter session.
At the same time, the cabinet will discuss the growing phenomenon of illegal infiltrators entering from Sinai and ways to improve border controls. The Prime Minister's Office denied a report on Channel 2 Thursday night which claimed that the government had approved plans to build a fence along the southern border to stop illegal infiltrators.
The announcement of the expulsion delay came hours after Interior Minister Eli Yishai said he had instructed the Oz unit to stop enforcing a directive that forbade asylum-seekers from entering the central region.
Both decisions came after weeks of intense pressure from government ministers, MKs, NGOs, the media and members of the public.
On Wednesday, President Shimon Peres joined the voices calling to stop the deportation of the children. Peres wrote a letter to Yishai requesting he reconsider the move and look into different solutions.
Peres included a quote from Leviticus in which the children of Israel are exhorted to treat the stranger as they would their own.
Shevy Korzen, executive director of the Hotline for Migrant Workers, one of the organizations that spearheaded the public outcry, said she was very happy and temporarily relieved. "We want the decisions that come out of the deliberations to be good and just," said Korzen.
When called by The Jerusalem Post, Korzen was on her way to a demonstration in front of the Interior Ministry in Jerusalem, calling for the release of 300 African asylum-seekers who were arrested for disobeying the directive forbidding them from being anywhere between Gadera and Hadera.
"There is still a lot to fight for," said Korzen. "Many of those foreign workers who will be deported, were made illegal by Israel's revolving door policy of continually bringing in new workers instead of hiring those who are already here."
Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar and Minority Affairs Minister Avishay Braverman have also offered support. Sa'ar is working on a bill that would prevent the imprisonment and deportation of children between the ages of three and 18. Sa'ar proposed setting conditions for granting permanent residency to children who have been absorbed into Israeli society.
The Tel Aviv Municipality is also contributing to the effort. Mayor Ron Huldai released a statement this week urging the immigration authorities to keep children's rights in mind. Yael Dayan, deputy mayor responsible for social services, is heading the municipality's efforts to prevent the children from being deported.
"We're doing everything we can. We're putting pressure on the Knesset and the Interior Ministry. And we're mobilizing organizations, individuals, famous people, artists, government ministers, to stop the whole thing from happening," Dayan told the Post before the prime minister's announcement.
"I think there's no way that the public will accept the deportation of children. It's inhumane to deport children. They don't have another home or another language or another culture. Jewish people should not be the ones to put people into camps. I hope that the government will not commit a humanitarian crime," Dayan said.
Tel Aviv is home to almost 90 percent of the country's migrant workers. Migrant families are mostly from the Philippines, South America and Africa, with smaller numbers from Nepal and India. They mostly work as caregivers for the elderly, as well as in housekeeping and agriculture.
Greer Fay Cashman and Elana Estrin contributed to this report.
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