Israel Mulls Granting Asylum Seekers Residency Status if They Leave Tel Aviv

South Tel Aviv activists pushing for the deportation of African migrants oppose the new plan

Lee Yaron
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Asylum seekers leave Saharonim prison, April 2018
Asylum seekers leave Saharonim prison, April 2018Credit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz
Lee Yaron

The Population and Immigration Authority has put together a new plan to encourage asylum seekers to leave Tel Aviv by offering temporary residency status to those who do so. But south Tel Aviv activists pushing for the deportation of asylum seekers oppose the plan, which was shown to them last month by senior officials of the Authority who had hoped to win their approval.

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According to the new plan, asylum seekers who leave Tel Aviv for other areas of the country to be designated by the authority would be given temporary residency status, which would grant them the right to work along with health insurance and other social benefits; those who return to Tel Aviv would lose that status.

A few weeks ago, the senior officials showed the plan to south Tel Aviv activists who oppose the presence of the asylum seekers in Israel in general and in south Tel Aviv in particular. The officials had hoped to stave off the harsh criticism elicited by the previous plan proposed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in April. That agreement, which was reached with the UN High Commission on Refugees, was quickly scrapped following fierce opposition by Tel Aviv activists who favor deportation.

Sheffi Paz, a south Tel Aviv resident and leader in the campaign against the asylum seekers, during a demonstration, May 2018
Sheffi Paz, a south Tel Aviv resident and leader in the campaign against the asylum seekers, during a demonstration, May 2018Credit: Meged Gozani

But the activists said they oppose the new plan as well, calling it “a declaration of intent and not an operative plan.”

Instead of 16,150 asylum seekers leaving the country, as the original plan had called for, the figure would be 18,000 in the new plan, and their departure would be over a four-year period, not five. The details of the revised plan were first reported by Barak Ravid of Channel 10.

“They offered us a plan that is a declaration of intent and not an operative plan. I have too much experience with false promises to accept it,” activist Sheffi Paz told Haaretz. “I asked them how they planned on enforcing [the provision] that someone who says they moved to the Arava will really stay there. The answers they gave were unsatisfactory. They said that if they’re caught, their visa will be downgraded,” said Paz, a south Tel Aviv resident and leader in the campaign against the asylum seekers.

Paz said she told the officials that the authority had failed to prevent the return to south Tel Aviv of asylum seekers who were released from the Holot detention center when it closed down.

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“The problem is that there is no one to catch them. The inspectors don’t do it. Our opposition is largely based on total lack of faith in the system,” she said.

Paz added that the officials have not shown the activists any country willing to take in the asylum seekers. “They said that’s the only plan on the table at the moment and that it won’t stay on the table for long.”

She added that there is no longer any discussion of deportation, nor of detention. “I was never for detention — I thought Holot should be an open facility. We’re putting our own plan together, that will emphasize the economic side.” It is clear that the asylum seekers “are here to send money home,” she maintained, “and so economic pressure should be brought to bear to hurt their incentive to stay here.”

The Population and Immigration Authority said in response: “All sorts of steps are being studied.”

There are currently about 39,000 Eritrean and Sudanese asylum seekers in Israel. According to the previous plan, presented by Netanyahu in April, Israel was to take in 16,250 of these individuals, and Western countries (mediated by the UN refugee agency) would take in an equal number.

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