Israeli Lawmakers Call for Outlying Towns to Absorb Asylum Seekers Despite Party Leader's Objections

The plan, drawn up by Kulanu MKs Roy Folkman and Meirav Ben-Ari, includes establishing a south Tel Aviv rehabilitation administration

An African asylum seeker in south Tel Aviv.
Meged Gozani

Incentives to outlying towns to take asylum seekers, setting up an administration to rehabilitate south Tel Aviv and expediting the evaluation of asylum requests are all part of a plan drawn up by Kulanu party MKs to deal with the nearly 40,000 African asylum seeker in Israel.

The plan, drawn up by MKs Roy Folkman and Meirav Ben-Ari, includes establishing a south Tel Aviv rehabilitation administration, something Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promised in the past but has yet to act on, and the dispersion of asylum seekers throughout the country.

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However, the two MKs made it clear there is no legal way to forcibly keep asylum seekers out of southern Tel Aviv. Instead, they propose to give financial incentives to localities in outlying areas to agree to take in asylum seekers. The MKs believe that poorer local authorities would take part in the effort in exchange for appropriate funding.

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Folkman and Ben-Ari also propose to invest money in upgrading the system for checking asylum requests, which is taking a long time. Under the plan, those who are entitled to refugee status will remain in Israel, but those whose applications are rejected will be subject to sanctions through the Deposit Law: The percentage of their salaries withheld until they leave the country – currently 20 percent – would increase significantly, the idea being to coerce these asylum seekers into leaving Israel.

The evaluation of requests for refugee status is the bottleneck of the whole system of treatment of asylum seekers. The state comptroller recently noted that some 6,800 applications by Eritrean and Sudanese nationals remained unanswered, some of them submitted more than five years ago. Israel has recognized only 10 Eritrean asylum seekers as refugees. More than 1,000 applications for asylum by former residents of Darfur in Sudan are still pending; the Immigration Authority has yet to formulate a policy on them.

In early May, Kahlon announced that he would support bill to deal with the issue of asylum seekers and include an override clause. “We are all in favor of removing illegal infiltrators from south Tel Aviv,” Kahlon told a faction meeting, using the government’s term for asylum seekers who entered the country via the Egyptian border, all of whom are African. “If we need an override clause on the issue of removing the infiltrators, this faction is united behind this.”

On Sunday, however, Kahlon seemed to be backing away from part of the outline drawn up by his own MKs, tweeting that any plan to disperse the asylum seekers to peripheral regions of the country “does not represent me or the Kulanu party. I and the Kulanu faction vehemently object to dispersing the infiltrators to the periphery.”