Israel's Policy on Migrants Is Pitiful

Why do Israeli authorities insist on denying refugees and migrants a dignified way of life?

The Population and Immigration Authority announced Tuesday that 177 Eritrean and Sudanese nationals had left Israel last month in a procedure dubbed "voluntary repatriation." The procedure blatantly contravenes the UN position that an incarcerated person does not have free will when it comes to consent to leave a country.

On Wednesday, Haaretz’s Ilan Lior quoted an Eritrean jailed at the Saharonim detention center in the Negev; the man said that "every day Interior Ministry officials come and tell us 'your asylum requests have not been accepted and Israel will never accept them, so you should sign the repatriation forms ... Don't waste time because you'll get $1,500 if you go back now.’"

The so-called voluntary repatriation procedure seems to be a function of Israel's desire to deport African migrants, rather than the migrants' desire to return home. This motive, which is behind the authorities' disgraceful treatment of migrants, was reflected by Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein, who visited south Tel Aviv at the beginning of the week. "It's hard for our country to absorb such quantities of infiltrators," he said.

Weinstein even boasted that "we're implementing the criminal-offenses procedure [under which migrants can face prolonged incarceration for relatively minor offenses], and that “we've lowered the threshold for offenses that are a real threat to public safety." He promised to call a special meeting of local-authority heads and their business advisers to examine ways to restrict migrants from obtaining business licenses.

Weinstein's statements are outrageous. Does the attorney general, who said on his visit that "every person is entitled to human dignity, even the Eritreans and Sudanese," think that a country like Israel can’t take in another 60,000 people? And this is happening while other countries are taking in a much higher number of refugees and migrants and treating them according to the UN covenant.

Meanwhile, Israel continues to bring in thousands of foreign workers. Weinstein's policy on business licenses is inexplicable. The Tel Aviv municipality’s new policy denies Eritreans a license to run a business, even an Israeli-owned business, unless they have a work permit. This means that many migrants will not be able to open a business.

It’s not clear why the state, after stopping the stream of migrants into Israel by building a fence, is insisting – with the attorney general's support – on denying refugees and migrants already here a dignified way of life. Instead of letting them work and make a living, which would keep them away from crime and let them rent apartments in less-congested places, the state imposes harsh employment restrictions on them, which perpetuate the distress of both migrants and local people.

Nir Keidar