The infiltration law ain’t broke

Israel could follow one of two models in its efforts to deal with illegal immigration.

Eritrean migrants in Tel Aviv. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Eritrean migrants in Tel Aviv.
Anti-infiltration laws are important not only as a way to stop the flow of illegal infiltrators, but also as a way to prevent the loss of lives.
It seems like the road to hell has never been paved with so many good intentions as has been the case recently with regard to the discussion about asylum policy in Western countries, including Israel. Again and again, we see that people and organizations involved in worthy humanitarian efforts push forward arrangements that do not help improve the situation, and in many cases even exacerbate the problems.
The situation in Italy is a perfect example.
The Italian navy launched a naval operation called “Mare Nostrum” (Our Sea) following the disaster last October in which more than 350 migrants were killed in shipwrecks near the Sicilian island of Lampedusa. The aim of the operation is to prevent such disasters.
Not surprisingly, as a result of Operation Mare Nostrum, the number of emigrants leaving Africa for Italy doubled and the number of people rescued by the Italian navy quadrupled this year.
Just this past week, however, some 700 migrants drowned, bringing to 3,000 the number of migrants to die at sea since the beginning of the year.
In complete contrast, on the other side of the world, the Australian government declared that the infiltration of immigrants by sea is illegal and that anyone trying to sneak in will be transferred to a closed facility. This put an immediate stop to the flow of illegal migrants. Even more importantly, after more than a thousand people lost their lives at sea while trying to get to the shores of Australia, this new policy has reduced the number of casualties at sea to zero.
As in Australia, the Israeli government has also instituted a policy whereby infiltrators are held in facilities, and the results have been remarkably similar.
Up until its policy changed, Israel had been known as the top destination in the Western world for African economic migrants, and we heard many sordid stories about torture camps in the Sinai Peninsula where many Africans lost their lives on their way to Israel.
This situation was only reversed once Israel began enforcing the new policy and putting infiltrators in detention centers. This past April, says Hamdi Azazi, the chairman of a humanitarian organization operating in northern Sinai and the main source of information for CNN’s reports about these torture camps, migration of Africans across Sinai completely stopped – as did the kidnappings and killings.
Israel’s policy regarding Eritrean infiltrators has another dimension to it that is not often taken into consideration.
More than a third of Eritrea’s GNP comes from money sent back home by citizens who’ve emigrated and are working in Western countries. If Eritrea were to give up these funds, it would loose the equivalent of Israel giving up NIS 100 billion of its GNP every year. In other words, currently Eritrea’s largest export is migrants.
Of course, the Eritrean government manages to collect taxes on this money that makes its way into the country, some of which lines the pockets of senior government officials. Between 2009-2012, Israel absorbed more than twice as many Eritreans as all EU countries combined. As a result, the Eritrean population in Israel is one of the largest sources of income for the Eritrean government.
IT IS clear then, that the abrogation of the Israeli infiltration law is a direct interest of the Eritrean government – the very same regime that infiltrators currently living in Israel say they were fleeing from in fear for their lives. In this case, Enforcing the law and stopping the flow of funds may bring about a change of policy in the Eritrean government and possibly even to an agreement for the safe return of Eritrean nationals currently residing in Israel.
It is clear that the detention facilities are not ideal as a long-term living situation and that a better arrangement needs to be found for true refugees, but the bottom line is that the centers are a life-saving solution for refugees that satisfy all of their immediate needs.
Naturally, they also discourage migrant workers from making the journey in the first place. It can even be said that contrary to popular belief, in comparison with the border fence, which is of limited effectiveness and does not discriminate between true asylum seekers and economic migrants who’ve entered the country in droves, these facilities are actually a much more humane solution.
Israel could follow one of two models in its efforts to deal with illegal immigration. The first would lead to an increase in the flow of immigrants, as well as the number of casualties along the way.
The second, on the other hand, would drastically reduce the number of immigrants and bring the smuggling industry and number of deaths to complete standstill. Israel chose the latter.
So why is Israel, which adopted a model similar to Australia’s, being attacked by critics? Perhaps it is due to a combination of rigid thinking and an entire industry made up of international organizations whose ideological worldview advocates open borders and free migration. Just like with weapons or pharmaceuticals, the illegal infiltration industry depends on migration to the West, including to Israel. Unfortunately, this doesn’t always take into consideration the welfare of the migrants or the protection of their rights.
An appeal has been submitted to the High Court against the infiltration law, which has been proven effective not just in stopping the flow of illegal infiltration, but as the key factor leading to an end of the smuggling industry in Sinai. Regardless of the outcome to this petition, it is clear that on the long run, detention centers are a crucial part of Israel’s immigration policy that not only keeps our borders safe and our country sovereign, but also saves human lives.
The writer is the director of public relations at the Israeli Immigration Policy Center (IIPC).
Translated by Hannah Hochner.