Migrant workers protest - Moti Milrod - May 23, 2012
Demonstrators in south Tel Aviv call on the Israeli government to expel illegal migrants. Photo by Moti Milrod
Text size

On Sunday, the Population and Immigration Authority began enforcing an amendment to the anti-infiltration law, approved by the Knesset in January. From now on, any African migrant who infiltrates into Israel will be imprisoned without trial for up to three years.

This draconian measure won't solve the problem of migration to Israel, but it will further erode Israel's image as a humane country that abides by international law. It's also not clear how it would even be possible to imprison tens of thousands of migrants here: The Saharonim facility in the south has space for 2,000 people, and even after it is expanded to accommodate 5,400, it will soon be fully occupied. As for the new facility now being built, it is still in the earliest stages of construction.

But the problem isn't one of logistics. Mass imprisonment without trial, for a lengthy period of time, of tens of thousands of migrants innocent of any crime, including women and children - people whose sole desire is to find a refuge from the terrors of their own governments or from wars in their countries, or even to find employment because of economic distress back home - is a cruel, benighted policy. Organizations that help migrants even say it is a violation of the UN Refugee Convention.

Instead of examining each migrant's status and eligibility, Israel is planning to jail them all. Instead of finally formulating a policy on immigration, Israel is throwing the migrants in jail without giving any of them, and especially the refugees among them, a reasonable chance of gaining asylum.

The flood of migrants from Africa is a worldwide problem. Israel should participate in solving it - and not merely by brutal, sweeping measures. Even as politicians vie with one another over who can inflame anti-migrant sentiment more, and as acts of violence, like yesterday's arson attack on an apartment full of migrants in Jerusalem, grow steadily more severe, the government isn't taking a single positive step to solve the problem.

A portion of these migrants to Israel should be given basic rights and allowed to work and live a decent life until the situation in their own countries improves. Israel is capable of absorbing them.

Of course, Israel must also control the flow of migrants over its borders. But even so, the state can't ignore the refugees from war who are knocking at its gates, and certainly not those who are already living here. Incitement, hate-mongering and mass detentions won't solve anything.