Significant Drop in Asylum Seekers 'Willingly' Leaving Israel Despite State's Best Efforts

Israel reports that 1,019 asylum seekers left Israel between January and May 2018, compared to 1,703 in same stretch in 2017 ■ Figures suggest that 58 percent of asylum seekers earn less than the Israeli minimum wage

 Asylum seekers in Levinsky Park in Tel Aviv, April 2018
Meged Gozani

The number of asylum seekers leaving Israel “voluntarily” fell by 40 percent in the first five months of this year despite attempts by the government to encourage asylum seekers to leave.

One of the main tools the government has been pushing to encourage asylum seekers to leave is the "Deposit Law," which requires employers to deposit 20 percent of asylum seekers’ salaries in a special fund they can only access when they leave the country.

In response to a case filed against the legality of the law by Kav La’Oved – Worker’s Hotline for the Protection of Worker’s Rights, the state reported that 1,019 migrants from Eritrea and Sudan left Israel between January and May 2018, compared to 1,703 in the same five-month period in 2017.

About 58 percent of asylum seekers make gross salaries of between 1,000 shekels (about $275) to 6,000 shekels a month. Thirteen percent earn 6,000 to 7,000 shekels, 17 percent from 7,000 to 9,000 shekels, 11 percent from 10,000 to 18,000 shekels a month and handful make more than that.

Asylum seekers’ wages

After deducting the 20 percent according to the Deposit Law, figures suggest that 58 percent of asylum seekers earn less than the Israeli minimum wage, which is about 5,300 shekels a month.

However, data also reveals that most employers do not make these deposits at all. Employers of only around 12,000 asylum seekers deposited the 20 percent of their salaries in such accounts. This is roughly one third of the 39,000 asylum seekers living in Israel as of May 2018. Of these some 25,700 are Eritrean citizens, 7,300 are from Sudan and 2,860 are citizens of other countries.

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Responding to the fact that few employers make desposits as the law dictates, the government told the High Court that the Immigration and Population Authority in the Interior Ministry intends to increase enforcement of the Deposit Law and take action against employers to do not abide by the law.

Those who do leave Israel have mostly gone to North America and Europe. Between 2015 and 2018, roughly 2,400 went to Canada, 600 went to the Netherlands, 450 to the U.S. and 440 to Sweden. Other destinations include Norway, Germany, Belgium, Switzerland, Denmark, Australia, Italy, the U.K. and France.  

The Knesset Labor, Welfare and Health Committee recently approved new regulations allowing certain groups of asylum seekers to deposit only 6 percent of their salaries, a decrease from the previous 20 percent deposit. The regulations were changed after the High Court imposed the principle of proportionality for such deposits. The new regulations, which will go into effect in October and reaches women, minors, workers over 60, single-parent fathers, those with various health issues and those who were the victims of enslavement or human-trafficking.

Recent changes to the Deposit Law plan to alleviate various financial burdens on asylum seekers. The head of the Enforcement and Foreign Citizens Administration in the Population Authority, Yossi Edelstein, told the committee that the new regulations will apply to over 5,000 asylum seekers, the majority of them being women.

Kav La’Oved said that the Deposit Law was passed to serve only one purpose: to abuse asylum seekers, make their lives difficult, and keep them in poverty so they will leave Israel. However it is clear that this policy has failed and only led to poverty.