The mayor of Petah Tikva, Yitzhak Braverman, is between the hammer and the anvil. In recent years, a few thousand African asylum seekers have settled in the city. They are concentrated in certain areas and have changed the makeup of the population in a manner that frightens the more veteran residents, who are pressing for a solution.
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The move to Petah Tikva stems partially from a ban forbidding asylum seekers, released from the Holot detention center, from living or working in Tel Aviv or Eilat. Asylum seekers congregate to economically weak places and frequently live in apartments that have been illegally subdivided by their owners into a number of smaller apartments.
“The main reason [for living in such apartments] is that they have no legal status,” says an asylum seeker from Eritrea. “People are not willing to rent them an apartment without a check. So they go to those who rent out an illegal apartment.
“If you have no documents, you are someone’s victim,” the asylum seeker added.
At a certain stage, Braverman threatened to cut off the electricity from those apartments, but backpedalled. As someone close to the residents, Braverman understands very well the problems of the different sides, and he also has a proposal for a solution.
“I’m treading a very fine line here. On one hand, I don’t want to inflame [things]. I did have to raise [the issue] to the national agenda. This is not just a problem of Petah Tikva,” said the mayor. “This is a national problem. Israel must decide what it is doing. If they had been given normal living conditions and normal wages and if they lived in normal apartments, and could live all over the city and not congregate in certain places, then there would not be a problem. There is also a public here that is afraid of this situation.”
“Normal living conditions and normal wages” for asylum seekers is the simple solution proposed by the mayor of Petah Tikva, which the government of Israel must adopt.
It is a shame the government is working in the opposite way. Just recently the government decided to deduct 20 percent of the already miniscule wages of the asylum seekers, a sum that will be returned to them on the condition that they leave Israel by a certain date; and if not, the money will be confiscated. Such a step will definitely exacerbate the situation in Petah Tikva and elsewhere.
A fence was built along the Israeli-Egyptian border at the initiative of the prime minister. Thanks to this fence and a change in the situation in Sinai and Egypt, it’s been several years that almost no new asylum seekers have entered Israel through Egypt. Some 46,000 asylum seekers are now living in Israel, most from Sudan and Eritrea; and according to the UN refugee convention, which Israel has signed, it is prevented from sending them back to their own countries.
That is why, until the conditions exist for the safe return of the asylum seekers to their countries, Israel must provide them with a status that enables them to work and make a living according to their abilities. Such a step would improve the situation of the refugees, but as the mayor of Petah Tikva has said, it will also improve the situation of the Israeli population among whom they live.