'Negligent gov't policy has caused problems for migrants, Tel Aviv locals'

State comptroller annual report cast doubts on gov't efforts to meet minimum requirements of migrants' constitutional rights.

African migrants protest in Tel Aviv (photo credit: LAUREN IZSO)
African migrants protest in Tel Aviv
(photo credit: LAUREN IZSO)
State Comptroller Joseph Shapira on Wednesday published his annual report with heavy criticism of the state’s African migrant policy as negligent and possibly unconstitutional.
While describing his foray into the issue as merely continuing to address the less-front-page socioeconomic issues he has focused on, Shapira blamed the state for mishandling the migrants issue, saying its policies only treated one-fifth or less of the issue.
Summarizing the state’s policy as trying to block more migrants from illegally crossing the Egyptian border into Israel with the new Sinai fence, while placing a few thousand, and at most 9,000, of the more than 50,000 migrants in open detention centers, the report blamed the migrants’ and the south Tel Aviv residents’ complaints about migrants on the state.
Shapira noted that even if the maximum number of open detention centers that are not yet built are built, more than 80 percent of the migrants would still be in south Tel Aviv.
As a result, he said that it was “doubtful” that those migrants’ minimum constitutional rights to human dignity were being preserved.
The state has tried to find third countries to send the migrants to, but these efforts have failed, the report said.
Shapira said the state’s failure to use resources to integrate them into the workforce and to provide them other rights, water, electricity, gas resources and sufficient housing was dropping the full burden of spin-off problems from neglect of the migrants on south Tel Aviv residents – including crime.
The vast majority of the African migrants, who are a minority of the around 230,000 foreigners in the country, entered the state in the past decade.
According to the report, they now represent 61% of the population in the Tel Aviv neighborhoods where most of them reside and 13% of the city’s overall population, with more than half of polled residents in the key neighborhoods saying they feel unsafe.
It said that 2011-2012 saw a noticeable increase in theft, which could be related to lack of work-options for migrants.
Reactions to the comptroller’s allegations from Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Interior Minister Gideon Sa’ar, Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein, National Infrastructure, Energy and Water Minister Silvan Shalom, the police (all of which the report said were partially responsible for the problems) and a support group for south Tel Aviv residents were swift.
Netanyahu’s statement said his policies had successfully “blotted out the phenomenon of illegal border infiltration.”
Next, the statement said that 5,827 migrants have returned to some part of Africa over the past year and that he would “continue with determination to return thousands of illegal work-seeking infiltrators to their countries of origin.”
Saar’s statement emphasized the state’s success in stopping “the wave” of “illegal infiltrators” with the new Sinai wall as well as the state’s efforts to convince the infiltrators to leave Israel with financial incentives and placement in the open detention center in the Negev.
Weinstein sharply disagreed with Shapira’s interpretation of infiltrators’ rights, saying that their legal status as people who cannot be sent home does not mean they have the full rights of citizens or of migrants who came to the country legally.
Shalom’s statement said that his ministry is understaffed for handling inspection of the state’s water, electricity and gas resources, let alone inspecting the spike in issues created by the migrants’ presence.
He added that the electricity problems mentioned in the reports would be further investigated.
The police said it had received funding to add more than 100 officers to the streets, with a significant number in the neighborhoods with the most migrants. Much of the report’s data was from before these positions were added and new policies were implemented to provide greater security, the police said.
The south Tel Aviv support group said that it endorsed the comptroller’s message that the state was neglecting the problem of migrants, but disagreed with his proposed solution.
Integrating the migrants and trying to spread them throughout the country was not realistic, and as long as they were not sent back to their home countries, they would remain or return to south Tel Aviv, taking an extreme toll on the local residents.
Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and Finance Minister Yair Lapid had not responded to requests for comment by press time, despite being named as having partial responsibility for state policy on migrants.
The report went on to describe what it called the state’s neglect that has meant that the migrants face a wide variety of problems, and that its improvised solutions are causing problems for veteran residents.
Shapira said migrants had insufficient healthcare, housing, access to gas and electricity for home needs, insufficient water resources and an unstable, semi-illegal job-market.
Due to these insufficiencies, migrants were encountering more serious health problems and that elderly as well as 150 migrants with HIV AIDS were being provided incomplete care by the state, he said.
Migrants were splitting water and gas lines as well as housing units in illegal and sometimes dangerous ways to account for their needs, the report said.
Seventy-five percent of the city’s fires occur in the neighborhoods with the most migrants and many of the fires were being caused by illegal gas usage.
Citing traditional Jewish law sources on proper treatment of “the stranger,” the state comptroller called on the state to integrate those migrants not in detention centers and who cannot be returned to their countries or origin into Israeli society, investing the resources necessary for this to occur.
In mid-March, the Comptroller’s Office and the Prime Minister’s Office exchanged dueling press releases about whether the Prime Minister’s Office had tried to keep the migrants section of the report confidential.
The Comptroller’s Office said it had been asked to keep the report confidential and refused, while the Prime Minister’s Office said that the comptroller had discussed the issue further with the attorney-general and altered the substance of his report, such that the Prime Minister’s Office no longer had any standing ask to impose confidentiality.