Illegal immigration from Africa to Israel
Undocumented workers from Africa in Israel (often also referred to as infiltration from Africa to Israel by the Israeli media and by Israeli government organizations) is the name of a phenomenon that began in the second half of the 2000s in which a large number of undocumented workers from Africa entered Israel illegally, mainly through the fenced border between Israel and Egypt. According to the data of the Israeli Interior Ministry, the number of these illegal immigrants amounted to 26,635 people to July 2010., and over 55,000 in January 2012.
Many of the undocumented workers say they seek an asylum status under the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees of the United Nations, but only a fraction of all the undocumented workers is actually eligible for this status (see Sudanese refugees in Israel). However, many of them, mostly citizens of Eritrea and Sudan, cannot be forcibly deported from Israel. The Eritrea citizens (who, since 2009, form the majority of the undocumented workers in Israel) cannot be deported due to the opinion of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees that Eritrea has a difficult internal situation and a forced recruitment and therefore the Eritrean immigrants are defined as a "temporary humanitarian protection group". Despite the fact that a similar opinion does not exist in relation to citizens of Sudan, Israel does not deport them back to Egypt due to a real fear for their fate. Although the immigrants entered Israel from Egypt, Israel cannot deport them back to Egypt because the Egyptians refuse to give an undertaking not to deport the immigrants to their countries of origin. Accordingly, the Israeli authorities grant a temporary residence permit to the undocumented workers, which needs to be renewed every three months. Various authorities in Israel estimate that between 80–90 percent of the undocumented workers live primarily in two centers: Tel Aviv (more than 60 percent of the Illegal immigrants) and Eilat (more than 20 percent), with a few in Ashdod, Jerusalem and Arad.
There are mixed feelings in Israel about the issue of illegal immigration from Africa and illegal immigrants in general. President Shimon Peres has issued a condemnation of the violent words and actions against the African migrant workers, calling on Israelis to refrain from racism and incitement, saying: "Hatred of foreigners contradicts the fundamental principles of Judaism. I am well aware of the difficulties faced by the residents of south Tel Aviv [and other similar areas], but violence is not the solution."
In recent decades considerable efforts have been made of by many migrant workers from third world countries to immigrate to developed countries in order to improve their wages and quality of life. This is often done in contravention of immigration laws of the destination country, especially when seeking a better life into it, such as infiltration made to the United States from the Mexican border. Developed countries are trying to combat this issue in various ways.
As in other developed countries, the phenomenon of migrant workers also exists in Israel. Illegal immigration from Africa to Israel was relatively easy due to Israel's land border with Egypt, which was mostly absent of obstacles.
In some of the illegal immigrants' countries of origin humanitarian hardship exists. The UNHCR has declared Eritrea as a country in humanitarian crisis. In the Darfur region in western Sudan, a genocide has been taking place since 2003. As a result, many of its residents became refugees and fled to Egypt. Added to those were refugees from southern Sudan, where civil war took place between the predominantly Arab Muslim inhabitants of the north and the non-Arab, Christians and animists inhabitants of the south.
Status of the illegal immigrants
Most illegal immigrants request refugee status after arriving in Israel, in accordance with the United Nations's Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees. Israel does not review the status of the individual asylum seekers originating from Eritrea or Sudan, who constitute about 83% of the total people looking for a better life in Israel through the Egyptian border, and instead automatically grants them a "temporary protection group" status. This status allows these illegal immigrants to gain a temporary residence permit within Israel which the must renew every 3 months, usually this also means that they would be eligible of a work permit in Israel. In the past Israel also granted an automatic "temporary protection group" status to all citizens of the Ivory Coast and South Sudan, although since then the validity of this status has expired. Regarding the other asylum requests filed by citizens of other countries and examined individually, the Interior Ministry stated that only a fraction of them were actually eligible of refugee status.
Migrant workers are not entitled to a "temporary protection group" status under the UN's Refugee Convention.
Development of the illegal immigration
In the second half of the 2000s, there was a significant increase in the number of undocumented workers from Africa to Israel who crossed the Egyptian border. In 2006 about 1,000 undocumented workers were detained; in 2007 about 5,000 were detained; in 2008 about 8,700 were detained; and in 2009 about 5,000 were detained. In the first half of 2010 the migration rate even further increased in the first seven months when over 8,000 Undocumented workers were caught. The total number of undocumented workers is clearly greater than these figures, because many were not apprehended. The early wave of undocumented workers came mainly from Sudan, while in 2009 the majority of the immigrants were from Eritrea.
In early May 2010, it was estimated that 24,339 undocumented workers resided in Israel, of whom the number of Sudanese and Eritrean refugees who are not deportable under international law was 18,959: 5,649 Sudanese and 13,310 Eritreans. 16,766 of them received a special visa (ס 2א 5) granted to illegal immigrants who are non-deportable asylum seekers. Officially, the visa allows them only to stay in the country, but in practice the state also allows the refugees to work and avoids imposing fines on the Israeli employers who employ them. This special visa requires renewal every three months. 141 immigrants, mostly from Ethiopia, received refugee status.
According to the IDF's Operations Division in 2008, most of the countries from where the illegal immigrants came are (in descending order): Eritrea, Sudan, Ethiopia, Ivory Coast and Nigeria. Most of the Illegal immigrants (85%) were men.
African illegal immigrants in Israel usually initially arrive in Egypt from their country of origin through flights. From there they often pay sums of up to two thousand dollars for Bedouin smugglers to transfer them to the border between Egypt and Israel. There have been cases of abuse against the female illegal immigrants committed by the Bedouin smugglers, including rape and other degrations. Another danger lurking for the illegal immigrants is the Egyptian army policy to shoot at them in order to prevent crossing the Egypt/Israel border.
African illegal immigrants
Numbers and place of residence
As of April 2012, 59,858 Illegal immigrants who were never imprisoned in detention facilities have illegally enter into Israel (in August 2010 the number of the imprisoned was 1,900). Several thousands of them did not end up staying in the country. The Israeli department of immigration does not keep continuous supervision over their place of residence but, according to estimates based on data from the Israeli police, the local authorities and the aid organizations, approximately 34,000 illegal immigrants originated from Eritrea, about 15,000 originated from Sudan and 10,000 originated from other countries. The Israeli Administration of Border Crossings, Population and Immigration does not keep detailed documentation regarding their place of residence, but according to estimates from 2011, which are based on data from the Israeli police, the local authorities and the NGOs, circa 15,000-17,000 illegal immigrants lived in Tel Aviv (mainly in southern Tel Aviv, though the number also includes illegal immigrants living in Bat Yam and Bnei Brak) and 4,000-8,000 living in Eilat. While the estimates in Ashdod range from 1,500 to 2,000 illegal immigrants, in Jerusalem range from 1,000 to 8,000 illegal immigrants, and in Arad range from 400 to 600 illegal immigrants. Their most prominent occupation is working in hotels, especially in Eilat.
Involvement in crime
In a discussion held by the police commissioner Dudi Cohen in December 2010, he stated that while there is a decline in cases of robberies in the general population, there is a dramatic increase in this type of crime among the illegal immigrants. According to the research department of the Israel Police and Israel's foreign immigrants' crime is characterized by predominantly sectoral internal crime, in which a gun is not reported, and illegal immigrants generally have no interest in complaining to the police. Due to an increase in criminal acts and the feeling of insecurity among the residents of southern Tel Aviv, the Israeli police established a new station near the New central bus station and the Shapira neighborhood. The station includes approximately 100 police officers and is expected to accommodate about 150 police officers. According to the data of the Israeli Police which was presented to the Knesset in March 2012 - from 2007 there is a steady increase in the involvement in crime of the illegal immigrants, both due to the significant increase in their numbers and for various other reasons. in 2011 1,200 criminal cases (criminal investigation files) were opened against illegal immigrants from Africa - half of them were opened in the Tel Aviv district. This is an increase of 54% in comparison to the previous year.
Israeli police reported experiencing difficulties dealing with criminal cases involving illegal immigrants originating from Africa, since the police do not possess interpreters who are capable of speaking the Tigrinya language spoken in Eritrea. In addition, the Israeli legal system also has reported a serious difficulty in conducting proper criminal procedures involving suspects who speak only the Tigrinya language.
Development of the state's treatment
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In 2010 Israel began building a barrier along sections of its border with Egypt to curb the influx of illegal immigrants from African countries. Construction was completed in January 2013. 230 km of fence have been built. While 9,570 citizens of various African countries entered Israel illegally in the first half of 2012, only 34 did the same in the first six months of 2013, after construction of the barrier was completed. It represents a decrease of over 99%.
Israel also began deporting thousands of illegal immigrants who were residing in the country. It was reported that Israel was close to signing a deal with several African countries which accepted tens of thousands of African migrants currently residing in Israel in exchange for a benefits package including weapons, military knowledge, economic and agricultural aid.
Israel has a number of organizations focused on helping the illegal immigrants in Israel. In some cases the organizations have compared the Holocaust refugees to the African immigrants. Relief organizations have been involved in discussions held in Knesset committees on this issue and have submitted a petition against the measures the state has taken to put a halt to the phenomenon of infiltration.
Reactions in Israel
The Israeli demographer Arnon Sofer has expressed his opposition to the African illegal immigration phenomenon for several reasons – From a security perspective, they may serve as informants or as operatives of hostile states or terrorist organizations. Socially, they are contributing to the congestion in the cities and to the rise in crime. From the demographic perspective, the already existing demographic threat to the Jewish majority only worsens by the gradual increase of illegal immigrants. According to Sofer, failing to stop the illegal immigration waves at an early stage will only lead to much larger waves of illegal immigration in the future.
In Israeli cities which have high rates of African illegal immigrants a resistance has emerged amongst the local population against this phenomenon. In mid-2010, a demonstration was held in Eilat against the non-action of the Israeli government, the residents claimed that they are now afraid to walk outside at certain neighborhoods at night. In the Shapira and Kiryat Shalom neighborhoods in the southern part of Tel Aviv a number of real estate agents have stated that they intend not to rent apartments in these neighborhoods to the illegal immigrants.
The Israeli economic commentator Nehemiah Shtrasler estimated that the illegal immigrants take the places of weaker manual workers, causing loss of jobs and a reduction in the wages. He also claimed that they burden the health care, welfare and education systems. "We would never be able to raise the standard of living of the needy and reduce the gaps, if we keep on absorbing more and more destitute people".
The Israeli MK Ya'akov Katz (Katzele), who headed the government committee aimed at solving the issue of illegal foreign workers stopping the infiltration to Israel, warned from infiltrations through the Israel–Egypt border and stated that if the current immigration rate to Israel would continue, within a few years there would be hundreds of thousands of illegal workers in Israel and that this would constitute a demographic threat to Israel, in addition to the other issues this situation would lead to, such as increase in crime and poverty in the areas in which the immigrants concentrate. One of Katz's proposals was to establish a city near the Egyptian border, where the immigrants would be gathered before being deported from the country.
In December 2011 the Mayor of Tel Aviv Ron Huldai addressed Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and demanded that the government would take "immediate emergency actions" against the immigrants. Huldai stated that "Israel can not continue to ignore the growing wave of immigrants which at this point it is clear to everyone that they infiltrate to Israel as migrant workers and that they are not in an existential threat". Huldai called to protect Israel's borders against infiltration and also to allocate the necessary resources for the immigrants who already entered the country "and caused severe distress to the residents of the neighborhoods who were forced to deal with this influx".
On 23 May 2012 a demonstration was held in the Hatikva Quarter, in which more than a thousand Israeli protesters protested against the way the Israeli government has been handling the influx of immigrants so far. During the demonstration the MKs Miri Regev, Danny Danon, Ronit Tirosh and Michael Ben-Ari held speeches. Later on the protest turned violent, as the participants began attacking passersby people, shattered panes of stores belonging to owners of African descent, burned garbage cans and clashed with the police forces.
On 28 December 2013 thousands have protested in Tel Aviv against detention of asylum seekers from Sudan and Eritrea. The protesters, marched from Levinsky Park in South Tel Aviv to city center, decrying the detention without trial of African refugees in the Saharonim and Holot detention facilities. Migrants have reportedly said to fear for their life should they return to their home countries.
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