Israeli Mayor Asks Residents to Report Asylum Seekers 'To Remove Them From the City'

Petah Tikva mayor called on citizens to notify a hotline of asylum seekers ■ Population and Immigration Authority denies policy's existence

Lee Yaron
Lee Yaron
An asylum seeker is seen walking down the street in Petah Tikva, 2017.
An asylum seeker is seen walking down the street in Petah Tikva, 2017.Credit: Moti Milrod
Lee Yaron
Lee Yaron

Petah Tikva Mayor Rami Greenberg has asked residents to report to a hotline any asylum seekers they see in their vicinity in order to expel them from the city.

“After creating an intelligence infrastructure, the municipality and the Immigration Authority will work together to remove them from the city,” Greenberg said last week after a meeting with the head of the Enforcement and Foriegners unit of the Population and Immigration Authority, Yossi Edelstein.

Haaretz Weekly Ep. 14Credit: Haaretz

The Population and Immigration Authority has denied the existence of any such policy.

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Asylum seekers from African countries are in Israel legally – including in Petah Tikva – and hold visas that the Population and Immigration Authority renews periodically. They may live and work in any city they want, with one exception: The visas of 480 of the asylum seekers who were released from the Holot detention facility prohibit them from working and living in seven cities, one of which is Petah Tikva. Haaretz has learned that the Population and Immigration Authority does not enforce this ban.

Thus, local authorities and the Population and Immigration Authority have no power to remove asylum seekers from cities unless they belong to the group of 480 released from Holot. The only laws the Population and Immigration Authority enforce in cities are laws pertaining to employers' conduct and a law requiring asylum seekers to deposit 20 percent of their salary to be received when they leave the country.

There are approximately 2,500 asylum seekers from African countries living in Petah Tikva, about one percent of the population.

The Population and Immigration Authority responded: “The meeting between the mayor and the head of Enforcement and Foreigners Unit was for the municipality to bring up professional issues. Unfortunately, the statement was not coordinated with us and is imprecise. We know of no operation planned in the near future. Nevertheless, ongoing enforcement work will take place also in Petah Tikva.”

In the meeting with the mayor, Edelstein said that Authority’s powers are limited since Holot was closed down. Since that time “enforcement powers have been annulled as have sanctions against foreign workers and so there is no possibility today to restrict their movements,” he added.

Greenberg claims in his statement that: “People are really afraid to walk around the city center. The heart of the city is deserted in the evening and night because of the fear of drunken foreigners, some of whom become violent.” Greenberg said foreigners “hold events in their compounds like weddings, on Shabbat as well.” He also claimed that some center city residents of Petah Tikva have moved away and that “This situation cannot continue.”

Greenberg’s statement said that he and Edelstein “had agreed that in the coming days work would be done to prepare for an enforcement operation in the city against foreign workers without a permit.”

Alva Kolan, policy advocacy director at the Refugee Rights Forum wrote a letter to Greenberg asking him “not to criminalize an entire population.” Kolan wrote that the municipality was asking residents to inform on asylum seekers living in their neighborhoods, “based on skin color. This tactic belongs to ignorant regimes and cannot exist in Israel, and should be stopped before it starts.”

Kolan added that if some of the 480 asylum seekers from Holot had moved to Petah Tikva in breach of their conditions of release, “let the Population and Immigration Authority enforce the ban. The ban is noted clearly on their visaa and there is no need to operate a civilian network for this purpose.”

The Petah Tikva municipality responded that they are trying to make the city safer. “It’s not only about Eritreans or Sudanese but all the foreign workers in Petah Tikva, including from Ukraine. The intent is foreign workers without visas and those same 480 Eritreans and Sudanese who are prohibited from living in Petah Tikva.”

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