Zionist Union: Let African Asylum-seekers Stay in Israel

New bill would grant 41,000 from Sudan, Eritrea work permits, health insurance, and disperse them outside south Tel Aviv.

Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis
Migrants protest in Tel Aviv, demanding recognition as asylum seekers, January 9, 2014.
Migrants protest in Tel Aviv, demanding recognition as asylum seekers, January 9, 2014. Credit: Moti Milrod
Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis

The Zionist Union demanded Wednesday that permits to live and work in Israel be granted to 41,000 Eritrean and Sudanese asylum-seekers who cannot be deported to their home countries because of the dangerous conditions there.

In a bill that the Ministerial Legislation Committee will likely discuss on Sunday, the party advocates financial incentives for towns that accept the African migrants, in order to reduce their crowding in south Tel Aviv.

All Zionist Union MKs signed the bill, which designates south Tel Aviv a national priority area with considerable investment to upgrade its infrastructure and law enforcement and improve its residents’ conditions.

The chances of a bill submitted by the opposition to win the cabinet ministers’ support are slim. The move is mainly intended to present to the public a significant alternative to Netanyahu’s government’s policy in recent years.

On Sunday, Zionist Union MKs plan to visit the southern Tel Aviv neighborhoods and tell the residents of the alternative they have drafted.

MK Merav Michaeli (Labor).Credit: Emil Salman

“If the migrants cannot be deported to their home states, we must give them a legal status and enable them to work and live in dignity,” said Zionist Union faction chairwoman MK Merav Michaeli. “We don’t have to turn them into such a terrible problem as the right has done. Many places in Israel need working hands, from nursing to farming,” she said.

The party suggests approving the bill as a temporary provision for five years, to examine its effect on the lives of south Tel Aviv residents and on the migrants.

Under the proposal, the interior minister will grant the migrants a year’s permit to stay in Israel and extend it every year, as needed. The migrants will receive health insurance and a work permit.

“The government will allocate resources and grant incentives to employers for hiring migrants in the Jerusalem, north, Haifa and southern areas and assist local authorities that take in migrants,” the proposal says.

Michaeli said Wednesday that this is expected to direct the asylum-seekers to areas outside of Tel Aviv. “It’s not imaginary. Ultimately every local authority will take in 1,000 or 2,000 asylum seekers,” she said.

African asylum seekers after leaving Holot open detention centre in protest, June 2014.Credit: Reuters

The initiative emphasizes rehabilitating Tel Aviv’s southern neighborhoods, which have been affected by the concentration of African asylum-seekers in recent years.

“These neighborhoods’ situation was bad long before the asylum-seekers arrived and is still bad today, after they set up Saharonim and Holot,” Michaeli said, referring, respectively, to the prison and detention built in the Negev to incarcerate the asylum-seekers, who entered the country through the Egyptian border.

“We see the main mission of this bill to put an end to the tragedy of south Tel Aviv,” she said.

The bill cites the State Comptroller’s report that said “the situation in the five south Tel Aviv neighborhoods where a considerable number of the migrants live is complicated and filled with hardships. There’s no doubt that the residents’ quality of life has been seriously harmed and the neighborhoods have been changed unrecognizably.”

The bill also refers to a ruling of the High Court of Justice that placed the responsibility for the southern Tel Aviv residents’ distress on the Knesset and government.

Michaeli rejected the possibility that granting tens of thousands of work permits will harm the livelihood of Israelis or legal work migrants who are already in Israel. According to the Population Registrar’s figures, some 185,000 migrants are currently staying in Israel, 77,000 of them legally and 16,000 illegally. Some 90,000 are classified as tourists staying in Israel with no visa.

“We won’t double the number of work migrants in Israel, but disperse those who are already here in places where they’re needed,” she said.

“The state will be able, for example, to stop importing new foreign workers and use those who are already here. This proposal will make them beneficial. For a long time the authorities buried their head in the sand and preferred not to give them a legal status because they were afraid of them,” she said.

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