Give African Asylum Seekers Legal Status, Work Permits And Health Insurance, Opposition Bill Says

Shmarya Rosenberg •

All members of Knesset from the opposition Zionist Union Party have signed on to a bill signed the bill that would give 41,000 Eritrean and Sudanese asylum seekers legal status in Israel while at the same time designating south Tel Aviv, where most of these asylum seekers currently live, as a special national priority area that would see significant government investment in infrastructure and law enforcement, Ha’aretz reported. The bill also provides financial incentives for other cities and towns which agree to accept the African asylum seekers. Those incentives are meant to reduce the concentration of African asylum seekers in south Tel Aviv.

Under law, these 41,000 asylum seekers from Eritrea and Sudan cannot be deported to their home countries because of the extreme dangers they would face on return.

“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. We don’t have to turn them into such a terrible problem as the right[wing] has done. Many places in Israel need working hands, from nursing to farming,” Zionist Union Knesset action chairwoman MK Merav Michaeli told Ha’aretz.

The bill should be passed as a temporary provision that would be in effect for five years, during which time the bill’s impact on the lives of both south Tel Aviv residents and the asylum seekers would be monitored.

The asylum seekers would be given a one-year permit to stay in Israel and work, which would be extended on a yearly basis as needed. The asylum seekers would also receive health insurance.

“These [south Tel Aviv] neighborhoods’ situation was bad long before the asylum seekers arrived and is still bad today, after they set up Saharonim and Holot [the prison and detention center the government uses to imprison African asylum seekers without trial and often without judicial review]. We see the main mission of this bill to put an end to the tragedy of south Tel Aviv,” Michaeli said.

The High Court of Justice previously noted in a ruling that the responsibility for the difficulties southern Tel Aviv residents’ face, in part because of the large number of poor African asylum seekers living there, falls on the Knesset and government, and the Zionist Union bill cites this ruling.

Michaeli rejected the idea that granting tens of thousands of work permits would hurt Israeli workers.

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

The bill will likely be blocked by the cabinet of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has repeatedly opted to imprison, harass, and otherwise abuse these asylum seekers rather than help them, even on a temporary basis. Netanyahu’s governments also built a border fence that has almost totally stopped the flow of African asylum seekers entering Israel.

But his moves have left many African asylum seekers in Israel destitute; those who are forced to work illegally as a result are easy prey for employers and brokers who may seek to exploit them.


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