Israel to Enforce Work Ban on African Asylum Seekers Who Refuse to Leave

Prime and interior ministers carry out clandestine tour of south Tel Aviv 'to examine the illegal residents' way of life up close'

Eritrean and Sudanese asylum seekers at the Holot Detention Center in southern Israel, December 8, 2016.
Eliyahu Hershkovitz

Interior Minister Arye Dery said Sunday that he will make sure that African asylum seekers who refuse to leave for Uganda or Rwanda are unable to work in Israel.

Currently, asylum seekers from Eritrea and Sudan hold temporary residency permits that state explicitly that they do not constitute work permits. However, the state promised the High Court of Justice that it would not enforce the ban on employment, so as to allow asylum seekers to support themselves.

The only asylum seekers who are not allowed to work are those held at the Holot detention facility. If they are caught working, the law allows them to be incarcerated at Saharonim Prison.

Last week the Supreme Court ruled that asylum seekers who refused deportation could not be jailed for more than two months. On Sunday, the Interior Ministry’s Population and Immigration Authority said that asylum seekers who refused to leave Israel for a third country would be imprisoned at Saharonim. On their release, these individuals will be issued a new temporary residence permit, identical to the one currently given to Sudanese and Eritrean asylum seekers, except that it will clearly state that the ban on working will be enforced.

This will be a further means of pressuring asylum seekers to leave the country.

Interior Minister Arye Dery.
Marc Israel Sellem

It is not known when the new policy will be implemented. The Population and Immigration Authority said it would announce the change in advance.

Sunday evening, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Dery toured southern Tel Aviv without media coverage. The interior minister’s spokesman said that they travelled in a covert vehicle "to examine the illegal residents’ way of life up close. The visit took place without prior notice to learn directly about the living conditions of the illegal residents of Darfur and Sudan in neighborhoods in south Tel Aviv.”

Dery added, "This was an important tour that helped us to study from close up the issue of infiltrators in the neighborhoods of southern Tel Aviv, and it will help us in our struggle to solve the problem."

Dery said Sunday: “It is inconceivable for an infiltrator who refuses to leave and is released from custody to a free and normal life to be employed by Israelis, ignoring the state’s steps to bring about their deportation. An employer who gives work to an infiltrator who refused to leave of his own free will risks a charge of illegal employment and will be fined.”

Oded Feller, a lawyer with the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, said, “The High Court has ruled that people cannot be jailed to force them to say they want to leave for Rwanda, so Dery decided to starve them so they’ll do it.”

Following last week’s court ruling, Dery called a meeting of officials from numerous agencies and ministriesat which it was decided to try to amend the agreements with Rwanda and Uganda to no longer condition deportations to those countries on consent of the asylum seekers. The Population and Immigration Authority also wants to advance legislation to bypass the Supreme Court’s ruling and jail asylum seekers indefinitely.