State to relocate refugees to periphery

Gedera-Hadera Plan aims to relieve stress from shelters in Tel Aviv, senior officials tell 'Post.'

sudanese refugees 224.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
sudanese refugees 224.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
The government has launched a program to distribute the recent influx of African refugees to the northern and southernmost peripheries, senior officials told The Jerusalem Post Thursday. The program, which has been labeled the "Gedera-Hadera Plan" because it will relocate refugees north of Gedera and south of Hadera, began earlier this week. It was unveiled by Interior Ministry official Yaakov Ganot, who heads the ministry's Population Administration, during a meeting with various refugee rights organizations last week. "We had to implement this plan because all of the refugees are centered in Tel Aviv and there is no longer enough shelter or work for them," said a spokeswoman for the Interior Ministry. "In other parts of the countries there are abundant job opportunities for them." Despite a recent deceleration in the number of African refugees crossing into Israel through its porous southern border with Egypt, officials estimate more than 3,000 refugees have arrived in Israel over the past three years. This week, 123 refugees, mostly of Eritrean origin, crossed into Israel and were transported to Tel Aviv. The unusually large group put a strain on the municipality's already stretched resources, and prompted Ganot to speed up his Gedera-Hadera Plan. Organizations that work with the refugees, including the umbrella group, The Forum for Refugee Rights, have voiced strong opposition to the program. "It is a very problematic plan, both from the point of view of the refugees, and from the point of view of the organizations. The refugees want to be in Tel Aviv because they have a community here; they want to be around people who have a common shared experience. Also, most of the organizations that are available to help them are based in the Tel Aviv area," said Romm Lewkowicz, a spokesman for the Hotline for Migrant Workers. The Interior Ministry and Agriculture Ministry have increasingly encouraged refugees to work in kibbutzim and agricultural areas in Israel's south. But while the refugees receive room and board, Lewkowicz said that they are often mistreated and underpaid. "In nearly every case we have examined, the refugees have not received minimum wage for their labor. They often leave those jobs because they are put in small groups, two or three, without their families or access to the rest of their community," said Lewkowicz. Adam, a 31-year-old Sudanese refugee who has been in Israel for over a year, said that he left his job in the Sha'ar Hanegev region when he discovered that he was receiving one-fourth of the minimum wage and working 12-hour days, well over the legal limit in Israel. "I do not want trouble. But I also do not want to be taken advantage of," said Adam, who would only reveal that his job was with the Flower Grower Association. "I want a better life, and a chance to advance myself." When asked if he would be willing to take part in the Gedera-Hadera Plan, Adam said he would be scared to go "unless one of the refugee rights organizations promised to keep track of it." "The good people from the [rights] groups have been the only ones always here, always helping," said Adam. There have been numerous complaints that the government has not formulated a cohesive policy to deal with the refugees since they began arriving in Israel three years ago. Nearly half of the refugees are of Sudanese origin, while the rest come from various countries including Ghana, Kenya, Ivory Coast and the Congo. Approximately 600 refugees from the Darfur region of Sudan have been given official refugee status in Israel, allowing them to work and find jobs throughout the country. More than a thousand other refugees, from the Congo and Eritrea, have been granted work permits through the UN, but they and refugees from other parts of Sudan have not been recognized as refugees by the state. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert announced plans to begin deporting the refugees back to Egypt nearly one year ago. One group of 48 refugees was deported to Egypt in the fall. As revealed in the Post, five of those refugees were deported by Egyptian authorities to Sudan and incarcerated for visiting Israel, which the Sudanese government labels an "enemy country." The deportation and imprisonment of those five refugees has been used by human rights groups seeking to legally block the Israeli government from proceeding with their plan to deport refugees. "This problem is not stopping, and sending us to the most far away corners of this country is not going to make it disappear," said Adam.