Residents of S. Tel Aviv on bill: Too little, too late

Locals say anti-Infiltration law is not enough to deal with the problems caused by influx of African migrants.

african migrants in tel aviv black 311 R (photo credit: REUTERS)
african migrants in tel aviv black 311 R
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The Bill to Prevent Infiltration, which was expected to pass its final vote Monday night, is not nearly enough to deal with the problems caused by the influx of African migrants, according to Tel Aviv city councilman and Hatikva neighborhood resident and activist Shlomo Maslawi.
“This is too little too late. The infiltrators have caused a collapse in south Tel Aviv’s education system, health services, housing market, environmental quality. All of it has collapsed and the government must provide the resources to repair this.”
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Maslawi added that African migrants have driven up real estate prices and the crime rate in south Tel Aviv, and that those who have the means to leave are moving out as quickly as they can.
The law will allow authorities to detain infiltrators caught in Israel for up to three years. They would have no right to a speedy trial and the state would reserve the right to prosecute those who assist the migrants.
According to Maslawi, deterrence plans are not enough to stop the migrants, and he proposed that the Border Police station two battalions of officers in areas along the Egyptian border where the security fence remains incomplete.
Maslawi also proposed that the government move some of the migrants out of south Tel Aviv and provide them with housing on kibbutzim and moshavim, to provide a measure of relief to the residents of poor and/or working class neighborhoods such as Hatikva and Shapira, which have seen a massive influx of African migrants in recent years.
The legislation was seen in a radically different light by Orit Marom, the Advocacy coordinator at ASSAF – the Aid Organization for Refugees and Asylum Seekers in Israel.“This is just a terrible law and another attempt by the government to deal with a complicated issue in an incorrect and harmful way,” she said.
Marom said the law will not differentiate between legitimate asylum-seekers and those illegally crossing the border and will result in “extended sentences for people whose only crime was to come here seeking asylum.”
Closer to home, the provision that would criminalize assisting infiltrators, if passed, could severely complicate the operations of her organization. “It will also will make our staff and all of our volunteers into criminals,” she said.
Marom also said that she doesn’t believe the law will deter anyone from trying to infiltrate Israel, saying “with all due respect to your prison, someone who is fleeing a war or a clear and present threat to their life will not be deterred by an Israeli prison.”
According to a report issued on Sunday by the Knesset Committee on Foreign Workers, there are around 45,000 African migrants living in Israel, out of a total population of more than 260,000 foreigners.
The report, which was based on Interior Ministry figures from November 2011, found that from 2010-2011 around 1,300 Africans illegally crossed into Israel from Egypt each month. The overwhelming majority of them are male and from either Eritrea or Sudan.
The report was discussed during a meeting Monday of the Knesset Committee on Foreign Workers, during which Prof. Galia Sabar, chairwoman of the African Studies Department at Tel Aviv University’s Department of Middle Eastern and African History, said the government must find ways to more quickly examine asylum requests of African migrants and award rights to those who meet the criteria.
Sabar said that the lack of decision-making on the part of the government encourages more migrants to come to Israel, including those who are not necessarily fleeing imminent death or genocide. She included Eritreans in that category, who comprise the vast majority of asylum-seekers in Israel.
“People aren’t standing there [in Eritrea] with knives and massacring people,” Sabar said, adding that in Eritrea “the situation is barely tenable and no major improvements are foreseen on the horizon.”
Speaking later to The Jerusalem Post, Sabar said that Israel "must differentiate and make clear and knowledgeable distinctions between people who are fleeing from genocide – for instance those from Darfur or the Congo – and those who are running away from harsh conditions that are more than sufficient to fall under the well-founded fear provision of the [1951 UN Refugee] Convention."
Sharon Harel of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees said the difficulties inherent in individually examining asylum requests highlight the need for recognizing migrants from certain countries as eligible for group protection in Israel.
She added that as long as the issue is ignored, facts would continue to be created on the ground.