Editorial

Israel's Theft From Asylum Seekers

Amendment to law stipulating taking fifth of African asylum seekers' wages and holding it until they leave Israel is another attempt to break their spirits.

Thousands of African asylum seekers stage protest
Thousands of African asylum seekers in Tel Aviv during protest against government policy. AFP

The Knesset last week approved an amendment to the law concerning illegal entry into Israel. Now, African asylum seekers will receive only 80 percent of their salary, with their employer paying the remaining 20 percent – along with a 16-percent levy – to the government. This money will then be held in escrow and the asylum seeker will only receive it when he leaves Israel. And if he does not leave on a specified date, the money will be confiscated by the state.

Since the fence was built along Israel’s border with Egypt, Israel has effectively been closed to asylum seekers. There are now some 46,000 African migrants in Israel, most of them asylum seekers from Eritrea and Sudan. The UN Refugee Convention prohibits Israel from returning them to their home countries, where their freedom and safety would be jeopardized. To overcome this problem, Israel invented the trick of “enforced voluntary return.” Hundreds of millions of shekels were invested in the Holot detention center, whose purpose is to break the asylum seekers’ spirits so they will sign a form consenting to return to their dangerous homelands.

Now the Knesset has added an amendment to the law, which makes the lives of the asylum seekers – who already work for minuscule salaries – even more difficult; it seeks to further break their spirit, pushing them to agree to “voluntarily” return to their homelands.

Despite the horrors Israel inflicted on South Sudanese asylum seekers when it sent them back to a place of vicious civil war, and the danger to asylum seekers who are repatriated to Eritrea and Sudan, Israel is unremitting in its cruelty. The new law also reflects the interest of the Knesset and governing coalition to make a hard life even harder in south Tel Aviv, and stir up public opinion against the asylum seekers. Cutting back asylum seekers’ wages means increasing overcrowding in their apartments – with all that this entails. If, instead of creating conditions of insecurity and constant threat, the government allowed asylum seekers to work and earn an honorable living, the situation of the Jewish residents of south Tel Aviv would only improve.

The amendment came on top of last week’s shocking discovery that, for more than two years, the Population, Immigration and Border Authority has concealed an opinion by the Interior Ministry unit that processes asylum applications. This stated that anyone from the Darfur region who is not a member of an Arab tribe is eligible for asylum in Israel. The opinion was clear, but in order to avoid the need to act accordingly, the ministry hid it and responded to questions about it by saying a policy had not yet been formulated. Naturally, asylum applications from those from Darfur have not been approved.

The state must approve asylum applications from Darfurians and urgently address the other asylum requests. Refugees’ organizations must appeal to the High Court of Justice against this wage-stealing amendment. It is to be hoped that the High Court will rule it unconstitutional, as has already been stated in the Knesset Interior and Environment Committee.