Asylum Seekers Not Part of New Knesset Migrant Committee’s Mandate

Knesset subcommittee will focus on migrant workers’ rights in the job market, with asylum seekers falling under eye of Interior Committee.

Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis
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Asylum seeker arrives at Holot detention center in January 2014.
Asylum seeker arrives at Holot detention center in January 2014. Credit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz
Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis

A new Knesset subcommittee dealing with migrant workers will not have the remit to address asylum seekers’ problems. The move follows the abolishment of the Knesset committee that used to deal exclusively with foreign workers’ issues, both officially and unofficially.

MK David Amsalem, chairman of the Knesset Interior and Environment Committee, announced on Monday the establishment of the subcommittee, with MK Daniel Atar (Zionist Union) elected to head it and report to the Interior Committee.

However, according to a new document concerning the subcommittee’s establishment, the Knesset Interior and Environment Committee will handle the asylum seeker issue itself.

Atar was elected to head the subcommittee after his party recently decided to scrap the Knesset Committee on Foreign Workers, which had been active for 17 years.

The old committee was not authorized officially to examine the asylum-seeker phenomenon, either. However, in practice it took it upon itself to address issues on numerous occasions and held hearings on the issue – despite strong criticism from then-Interior Committee chairwoman Miri Regev (Likud).

Regev chaired the committee during the previous Knesset, which ran from 2013 to 2015.

MK Michal Rozin (Meretz), who headed the Knesset Committee on Foreign Workers at the same time, held 52 meetings and tours, and also dealt with matters related to the increasingly topical issue of Eritrean and Sudanese asylum seekers.

Regev asserted at the time that the foreign workers’ committee did not have the authority to deal with “infiltrators,” and tried to limit the scope of its work.

However, the small committee also debated a host of other issues: Reforming the process of hiring migrant workers in nursing; reforming health services and social benefits provided to migrant workers; the policy of examining refugee requests; the status of migrant workers’ children; sexual exploitation of migrant workers; the needs of human-trafficking victims; integrating migrant workers’ children into the school system; and supervising employers of migrant workers.

Soon after last March’s election, Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog promised to establish a subcommittee to address the issue seriously. However, not only will the new subcommittee not handle asylum seekers, its guidelines lack any clauses dealing with helping migrant workers to deal with daily tribulations or the bureaucracy connected to their work.

The subcommittee’s guidelines are mainly concerned with supervising the influence of hiring migrant workers in the local job market, reviewing government decisions on the matter, overseeing Population, Immigration and Border Authority decisions, and the processes involved in ending migrant workers’ jobs in Israel.

The Israel Democracy Institute expressed regret last week over the decision not to reverse the decision to eliminate the Knesset Committee on Foreign Workers.

“Precisely in Israel, a country lacking a comprehensive immigration policy, where over 100,000 migrant workers reside, there is an important place for a committee that also deals with defending the rights of 45,000 asylum seekers,” said Reuven Ziegler, an expert on migrant and international law at the Israel Democracy Institute.

“The present situation, where many of the foreigners residing in Israel are vulnerable to violations of their rights in a host of areas – including employment, welfare and health – requires the existence of a dedicated committee for examining the distress of this vulnerable and exposed group,” added Ziegler.

“In the past,” he continued, “the committee was a voice crying in the wilderness for the political system, which obliged government ministries to account for Israel’s position on international standards, as well as human trafficking and the phenomenon of modern slavery.”

Zionist Union officials explained two weeks ago that there was no justification for allocating funds for a unique Knesset committee to deal with the issue.

“There is simply no point in operating a committee that will specialize in [discussing] the distress of foreign workers in Israel. The foreign workers are no longer a story,” said one official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“The committee has not focused on foreign workers in recent years, but rather on asylum seekers – who fall under the remit of the Interior Committee, in any case,” the official added.

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