New law in Israel is aimed at coaxing migrants to leave
Legislation hits employer and worker and is aimed only at African refugees
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
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.