African refugees to stay out of Eilat - Interior Ministry

No more African refugees will be allowed to settle in Eilat after the Interior Ministry agreed to a plea by Mayor Meir Yitzhak Halevy to keep the refugees from settling in his city, reports But the decision has angered refugee assistance workers, who say it is an infringement of basic rights and will cause thousands of people who live in Israel legally to become burdens on the welfare system. According to the report, Halevy recently wrote to Deputy Prime Minister and Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Interior Minister Meir Shetreet and Internal Security Minister Avi Dichter, urging them to intervene in the matter of the refugees and saying that the southern city simply could not continue to absorb the many people flooding into Eilat from African countries such as Sudan. Halevy wrote that he would use every legal means at his disposal to try to move the refugee population to other cities, where they would be able to receive the services and solutions for their needs that Eilat was having difficulty providing. He also said that work permits and benefits for foreigners employed in the tourism industry in Eilat should be clarified and expanded, which would protect those working in the industry and reduce the number of refugees in the city. The report said that Halevy's request was supported by Industry, Trade and Labor Minister Eli Yishai, who told the ministers that there was a "serious problem" employing the refugees in Eilat. Yishai said the refugees were posing moral, legal and economic questions for Israel in general and for Eilat and its residents in particular, and inter-departmental cooperation was needed to resolve the issue. In response to the mayor's request, the Interior Ministry said it would no longer allow the refugees to settle in Eilat. "Eilat has turned into a center for refugees, and following complaints from numerous sources in the city, it has been decided to add the city to the list of local authorities in which they are prohibited to settle," a ministry statement said. But refugee assistance workers responded angrily, saying the decision was an infringement of the basic human right to "live honorably," and that it would consequently turn thousands of people living legally in Israel into burdens on the welfare system.