Justice Ministry Seeks to Criminalize Money Transfers by African Migrants

African migrants could face six months in jail or a NIS 29,200 fine for transferring money abroad if bill passes; ministry says move aims to reduce economic incentives for illegally entering Israel.

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Israel's Justice Ministry on Sunday proposed an amendment to a bill that would prohibit African migrants from transferring money abroad to their families.

If the bill is passed, African migrants could face six months in jail, or a NIS 29,200 fine for transferring funds abroad. The sentence is even harsher for anyone who aids African migrants transfer money abroad – one year in jail, a NIS 29,200 fine, or twice the sum the person took out, or was planning to take out, from Israel.

"The proposed bill is meant to help deal with the infiltrator problem by criminalizing the transfer of money by African migrants outside of Israel," the Justice Ministry statement read.

The ministry said that the bill aims to reduce the economic incentives of illegally entering Israel, and to encourage African migrants to leave the country.

According to the new law, it is estimated that, based in part on the findings of migrant interviews that are conducted by the Population and Migration Authority immediately upon their entry to Israel, many are labor migrants who come to Israel to work and send money to their families back home. Therefore, the law explains, reducing the economic incentive for migrants is a significant and effective tool in dealing with the influx of migrants.

Under the new law, a temporary ban would placed on money leaving the country, with no limits on use of money within Israel. When leaving Israel, a migrant would be entitled to take the money that they earned while working in Israel with them.

The law would not apply to those recognized as refugees, special cases, or migrants with legal status in Israel.

To prevent the use of third-parties for transferring funds out of the country on behalf of illegal migrant workers, it was proposed to ban transfers of funds equal to half the minimum wage over the number of months that a migrant has spent in Israel. If a migrant requests to transfer an amount higher than this, they would have to prove that they received the funds through their job. According to the new law, migrants workers earn the minimum wage, and typically save half their salary every month.

Earlier Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu instructed Defense Ministry officials to expedite the construction of a fence along the Israeli-Egyptian border, emphasizing the importance of curbing illegal immigration.

"The goal is to turn the tables, and take all necessary actions to have the number of illegal immigrants that leave Israel be larger than the number entering Israel," Netanyahu said during a meeting on the issue at the Prime Minister's Office.

At the meeting, Interior Ministry officials presented data on the number of migrants that crossed the Israeli-Egyptian border during June. According to those statistics, the number of migrants that crossed the border that month halved from 2,031 in May to 928 in June.

African migrants stand in line to receive food at Levinsky park in south Tel Aviv, June 13, 2012.Credit: Reuters

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