New law in Is­rael is aimed at coax­ing mi­grants to leave

Leg­is­la­tion hits em­ployer and worker and is aimed only at African refugees

African Independent - - NEWS - MIRIAM BERGER

be­cause of it. The gov­ern­ment says it will take sev­eral months to know the full im­pact.

Busi­nesses that rely on mi­grant labour say costs will rise, and rights groups say Is­rael is not abid­ing by its in­ter­na­tional le­gal obli­ga­tions. The gov­ern­ment de­nies this but the Hot­line for Refugees and Mi­grant Work­ers, an Is­raeli non­govern­men­tal or­gan­i­sa­tion, is chal­leng­ing the law in Is­rael’s High Court.

“(It’s) a very cal­cu­lated plan to make sure that peo­ple un­der­stand they are not wel­come,” said Ruvi Ziegler, as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor in in­ter­na­tional refugee law at the Univer­sity of Read­ing and a re­searcher at the Is­rael Democ­racy In­sti­tute.

Large num­bers of Africans, the vast ma­jor­ity from Eritrea and Su­dan, be­gan en­ter­ing Is­rael il­le­gally from Egypt in the mid2000s. Many said they fled war and per­se­cu­tion as well as eco­nomic hard­ship but Is­rael treats them as eco­nomic mi­grants.

By 2013, Is­rael had mostly com­pleted a high-se­cu­rity fence along the 245km bor­der, all but halt­ing the in­flux.

By then, an es­ti­mated 55 000 peo­ple had en­tered the coun­try, ac­cord­ing to In­te­rior Min­istry fig­ures.

Sev­eral thou­sand have left since then. Some re­ceived asy­lum in coun­tries such as Canada and oth­ers ac­cepted an Is­raeli of­fer to go to a third coun­try in Africa – usu­ally Rwanda or Uganda – in ex­change for money, though refugee ad­vo­cacy groups say the plight of many of these mi­grants has since wors­ened.

Many of those who re­main have learnt He­brew and fill jobs in restau­rants, ho­tels and other ser­vices which aid groups say most Is­raelis do not want to do.

Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu has called the mi­grants’ pres­ence a threat to Is­rael’s so­cial fab­ric and Jewish iden­tity and some of his sup­port­ers have re­ferred to it as “a can­cer”.

Some Africans have been beaten up by Is­raeli youths, and a Dar­furi man was killed in one such as­sault last year.

Aid work­ers say that since the new law was im­ple­mented, there has been an in­crease in re­ports of asy­lum seek­ers be­ing fired from jobs be­cause of the tax.

No gov­ern­ment fig­ures are avail­able on this, but the aid work­ers say some mi­grants are record­ing only some of the hours they work, and are be­ing paid on the side for the rest, to re­duce the taxes paid by both the em­ployer and em­ployee.

Lem­lem, an Eritrean who de­clined to give her full name, said she had lost her job in a clothes store in Tel Aviv be­cause her em­ployer did not want to pay the in­creased tax.

Lem­lem, 29, has a six-yearold daugh­ter and her hus­band is un­em­ployed. She does not know how she will pay her 1 800-shekel ($515) monthly rent.

“Eritrean peo­ple are scared,” she said.

Em­ploy­ers are hav­ing prob­lems bud­get­ing for the new tax and sign­ing up em­ploy­ees for the fund be­cause of tech­ni­cal dif­fi­cul­ties, said Shai Ber­man, gen­eral man­ager of the Is­raeli Restau­rant As­so­ci­a­tion.

The gov­ern­ment has de­nied the as­so­ci­a­tion’s re­quest for more time to process pay­ments for May, and a promised re­duc­tion of the tax has not yet been ap­proved, Ber­man said.

“It’s a mess,” he said. “We have a big prob­lem.”

Some em­ploy­ers say that, in the mean­time, they may have to raise salaries to help asy­lum seek­ers get by. –Reuters

PIC­TURES: JIM HOLLANDER / EPA

END­LESS WAIT: Newly ar­rived African mi­grants stand in line at the en­trance to the Holot de­ten­tion fa­cil­ity in the Negev Desert along the Egyp­tian bor­der. Is­raeli, me­dia re­port the cen­tre is the fullest it has ever been.

IN LIMBO: African mi­grants use cell­phones near the Holot de­ten­tion cen­tre in the Negev Desert. The de­ten­tion cen­tre al­lows pris­on­ers to be out­side, but they must be back for the night, and can­not work.

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