New Immigration Police Rounds Up 300 Refugees, Illegal Workers

Some 88 still in custody after Tel Aviv raided as part of 'Hadera-Gadera' residence area restriction law.

A newly-created task force dealing with illegal immigration carried out its first raid on Wednesday, rounding up 300 foreign laborers in Tel Aviv's southern neighborhoods.

Some 100 members of the "Oz" task force, which has replaced the former Immigration Police, raided the Gan Levinsky area near Tel Aviv's new Central Bus Station, where they filled four buses with foreign workers, a witness reported.

As of late last night, 88 workers and refugees rounded up in the raid remained in police custody. Both legal and illegal workers were detained, as part of the "Hadera-Gadera" law, which rules that foreign workers must reside north or south of the two coastal Israeli cities. As part of the enforcement of the law, no minors or elderly people will be held, to give their families time to leave the city under their own volition.

Some 100 officers showed up, handed water to the children and immediately arrested the workers," Rom Levkovich, from the Hotline for Migrant Workers, said. "They filled four buses with migrants, many of which they can't deport. It looks like they are trying to exploit the summer months to carry out operations more quietly and cause less fuss."

Aisha, an asylum seeker from Sudan's restive Darfur region, says she was briefly arrested during the roundup. "They asked me what I was doing in Tel Aviv so I told them I have work here, and this is where my six children are growing up," she said. "They told me I have to leave Tel Aviv but this is where my life is.

The Levinsky area in south Tel Aviv is largely populated by migrants and many non-Jewish immigrants.

"As of today, we have the responsibility for enforcing the law, and it has been decided that there will be an intensive effort that will seriously impact the Israeli economy," said Tziki Sela, commander of the Oz unit.

Sela added that there would be an ongoing effort to identify illegal workers at every time and in every place. "We will conduct ourselves according to the rule of law with a great deal of decisiveness and sensitivity," he said.

According to the Immigration Ministry, more than 250,000 illegal foreign workers live in Israel. The new task force will concentrate responsibilities previously divided among a number of government offices. For instance, it will offer migrants legal protection (previously under the auspices of the Ministry of Industry, Trade & Labor) as well taking over responsibilities from the police for the detainment and deportation of illegals.