Israel to Release $22m in Funds 'Deposited' by Asylum Seekers Under Court-revoked Law

'The use of economic incentives is a legitimate way to conduct immigration policy but the means chosen in this case... is clearly harmful,' Supreme Court president rules

Lee Yaron
Lee Yaron
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A protest of Sudanese asylum seekers in Tel Aviv April 2019.
A protest of Sudanese asylum seekers in Tel Aviv, April 2019.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum
Lee Yaron
Lee Yaron

The Israeli government said on Wednesday it would pay back more than 79 million shekels to some 4,000 asylum seekers in a first installment of sums withheld from their wages under a court-revoked “deposit law.”

The Population Authority said it would deposit the funds next week to those asylum seekers who have applied for the refund. The High Court cancelled the law last month that required asylum seekers to have 20 percent of their wages withheld, which was refundable only when they left the country.

Data from the authority, which is part of the Interior Ministry, show that 8,612 asylum seekers have asked to withdraw money withheld from them under the now defunct deposits law. More than half the requests have been handled and next week the funds will be deposited in the asylum seekers’ bank accounts.

The authority set up an online service a few days after the court’s ruling via which asylum seekers may apply to withdraw their money. Many have still not submitted their requests, and the authority is weighing whether to reach out to these people, given an approaching deadline to return the money.

The deposits law went into effect in May 2017. Last month, the High Court found it unconstitutional and it was revoked. Justices also gave the state 30 days to refund all the money accumulated in this fund.

A demonstration of asylum seekers demanding returns on their deposit money, April 22 at the Knesset.
A demonstration of asylum seekers demanding returns on their deposit money, April 22 at the Knesset. Credit: Emil Salman

The court found that withholding a fifth of wages every month dealt a serious blow to asylum seekers, most of whom earn less than minimum wage, and whose wages are their only property.

Supreme Court President Esther Hayut said in her decision that “the use of economic incentives is a legitimate way to conduct immigration policy but the means chosen in this case – removing a fifth of a worker’s wages until they leave Israel – is clearly a harmful, tangible and significant blow to the property rights of an asylum seeker and worker while the extent to which this measure is useful is limited.”

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