Israel Promised Their Jobs Were Safe, but Tel Aviv Fires Asylum Seekers

Interior Ministry instructs local authorities not to hire foreign workers, including refugees and asylum seekers, who lack work permits and valid visas.

In violation of the state's promise to the High Court of Justice, the Interior Ministry has instructed local authorities not to hire foreign workers, including refugees and asylum seekers, who lack work permits and valid visas.

The directive was issued in April 2011 but came to light only recently, after the Tel Aviv municipality sent an announcement to its suppliers who use contract workers. The letter, signed by Yehoshua Niv, deputy director of the municipality's accounts department, said that starting April 1 the city will check the work permits and visas of the companies' employees and take action against any company that employs people who lack the appropriate permits.

Asylum demonstration - Tomer Appelbaum - February 2012
Tomer Appelbaum

The ministry directive violates the state's announcement, in response to a High Court petition from human rights organizations, that it would not enforce the prohibition against employing unauthorized immigrants until the detention center in the Negev starts operation. The state also undertook to notify the petitioners a month in advance of resuming enforcement.

Earlier this month, attorney Daphne Peri-Sharon, head assistant to the municipality's counsel, confirmed the city's intentions to enforce the prohibition despite the state's promise. She outlined its position in a letter to Dr. Yuval Livnat of the Refugee Rights Clinic at Tel Aviv University.

In her letter she noted that the Interior Ministry had issued directives that were contradictory to the High Court ruling and the state's undertaking in connection to the case, prohibiting local governments from employing foreign nationals without valid visas and work permits.

"Failure to comply with the Interior Ministry directives ... could lead to sanctions against authorized figures in the municipality," Peri-Sharon explained.

Livnat argued that Peri-Sharon's letter explicitly implies that the municipality's legal department recognizes that its instructions to contractors stand in violation of the state's promise to the court.

Some contractors have already dismissed asylum seekers without work permits. One asylum seeker from Eritrea was recently fired after working as a street sweeper for nine months.

Livnat said the man's boss confirmed in a conversation that the only reason for the dismissal was the new directive from city hall. The manager said his company is hiring foreign nationals to replace the ones who were let go, including asylum seekers from Eritrea who entered Israel more than four years ago and have valid work permits.

The Eritrean, who did not want his name used in this article, entered Israel about a year ago, together with his wife and their two small daughters. For the past nine months he worked six days a week and cleared between NIS 4,000 and NIS 5,000 a month. He said he wanted a second job, after work, but was unable to find one because his visa indicated that he was prohibited from working.

In a response the Interior Ministry expressed surprise at the "sudden interest" in a directive issued more than a year ago and said the ministry would respond soon to the issue in court, and not in the media.