'Gov’t lacks solutions for dealing with migrants'

Meretz MK: Gov't has come up with ways to stem illegal immigration, but has no solution for migrants already here.

Eritrean migrants, Sinai_311 (photo credit: Asmaa Waguih/Reuters)
Eritrean migrants, Sinai_311
(photo credit: Asmaa Waguih/Reuters)
The government does not have a solution for dealing with the African migrants inside Israel, and is focusing on preventing further migrants from entering, the head of the Knesset Committee on Foreign Workers said Monday.
MK Nitzan Horovitz (Meretz) said, “The government does not have a solution for those refugees who are already here. All of these plans about fences and laws and the like, are all just solutions that will solve issues in the future. But for those already here, the government has no solution.”
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Horovitz spoke hours after the committee held a meeting on the issue of African migrants, with a particular focus on what to do with the large number of such migrants already in Israel who have no intention of leaving voluntarily.
During the committee meeting, Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin (Likud) said Israel has a responsibility to assist refugees and brought up the possibility of giving many of them work permits in place of foreign workers from Asia and elsewhere who continue to arrive in Israel each year.
Reuven said the current situation forces African migrants to work illegally, exposing them to abuse by employers. He also said that he feels that the United Nations understands the importance of cooperation with Israel and other regional neighbors in finding solutions to the issue.
For his part, head of the Population, Immigration, and Borders Authority (PIBA) Amnon Ben-Ami told the committee meeting that allowing African migrants to work legally will complicate efforts to deter further migrants from coming, and will cause their numbers to rise even further.
He also said that PIBA has “indicators” that show that the “infiltrators” are not refugees and that “the use of this terminology is incorrect.”
United Nations High Committee for Refugees (UNHCR) Representative in Israel William Tall said that the meeting was beneficial and added that he has noticed that the tone of such meetings has become more rational and understanding over the past two years.
Tall also related to a report on Sunday that Israel will build a security fence along the Jordanian border, once the fence on the Egyptian border is complete, to stop migrants from entering Israel from the East. Tall said that he had never heard of an African migrant entering Israel from Jordan, but that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu may have made the statement in order to show that he is “ahead of the curve” on the issue.
“Now there’s a realization [in Israel] that there is an eagerness by people to come to Israel and the fear is that this will lead to resourcefulness,” Tall said.
“They anticipate that the [Sinai] wall will be effective and that people may try to take a boat to Jordan or Saudi Arabia in order to enter Israel.”
Monday’s Knesset committee meeting came a day after PIBA announced that December broke a new record for the number of “infiltrators” who crossed into Israel illegally by way of the Sinai Peninsula.
According to the figures, 2,931 migrants illegally entered Israel in the final month of 2011, part of a total of 16,816 who entered Israel over the course of the year.
In a report issued in December 2011, the authority stated that there is a grand total of 51,125 “infiltrators” in Israel as of November 25, 2011. Of these, 28,205 are from Eritrea, 13,066 from Sudan and 9,855 from elsewhere in Africa.
Also on Sunday, PIBA said that after an assessment was made by the Foreign Ministry, they have come to the conclusion that Israel can begin working to return those citizens of the Ivory Coast currently residing in Israel.
Though it did not say exactly how many are in Israel, they are among the nearly 10,000 mainly West Africans and Congolese in the country.
According to PIBA, the Foreign Ministry has ruled that the situation in the Ivory Coast can not currently be seen as one of civil war due to the improved security situation in the country, and that steps can be taken to begin returning Ivory Coasters home.
As a result of the decision, beginning January 1, Ivory Coasters will no longer be allowed to temporarily reside in Israel legally.
They added that they are calling on all residents of the Ivory Coast to return voluntarily to their home country.
Defense officials said that the increase in infiltrations in recent months was understood to be part of an effort by African migrants interested in reaching Israel before the fence is completed.
None of the infiltrations have taken place where there is a fence and the IDF recently sent troops from the Golani and Givati Infantry Brigades to try and climb the five-meter fence and they failed.
Herb Keinon and Yaakov Katz contributed to this report.