Israeli Government Proposes Work Camps for Illegal Immigrants


mexicansThe Israeli government is considering establishing work camps in the south of the country, where illegal migrant workers will receive shelter, food and medical care, Army Radio reported yesterday. In exchange, illegal migrants would perform manual labor outside the camps, but would not earn a salary.They would stay at the camp until their asylum claims are decided, which could take months or years.

The proposal, part of the effort to address the problems posed by illegal migrants, would place asylum seekers at jobs in communities in the Negev and Arava. Their salaries would go to the state, in order to fund the camps.

The issue of illegal foreign migrants and refugees has made the headlines due to the efforts by human rights organizations to block the deportation of 1,200 foreign workers’ children. One of the main arguments by deportation advocates, including Interior Minister Eli Yishai (Shas), is that allowing them to stay would bring hundreds of thousands more illegal migrants.

They would bring in “a range of diseases such as hepatitis, measles, tuberculosis and …drugs,” said Yishai.

“I fear how far we have fallen,” said MK Dov Khenin (Hadash) in reaction to the work camp proposal, adding that he thinks the plan would encourage many more asylum seekers to try to enter Israel.

“The plan [would] induce refugees to come to Israel. A bed is an incentive compared to where they come from. Israel has the right to close its borders, but when someone comes here, you cannot fight with him. This shows that we haven’t learned a thing, as people living in a country established by refugees for refugees,” Khenin added.

In addition to the opposition of human rights groups, communities in the south may also not respond favorably to the plan. In April 2008, during a court hearing on the government’s policy of putting asylum seekers in the northern and southern peripheries, north of Hadera and south of Gedera, an affidavit was presented to the court on the migrants’ employment prospects. In the document, Sigal Rosen of the Hotline for Migrant Workers declared that kibbutzim in the south had not shown an interest in hiring the migrants.

“We contacted many kibbutzim in an effort to have Sudanese asylum seekers released for farm work,” she said. “Despite the argument they desperately needed workers, most of the coordinators at the kibbutzim rejected my request after they learned they would have to pay the asylum seekers at least minimum wage, as provided by law, [and] could not make deductions from their salaries beyond what the law on foreign workers requires.”

Rosen contacted hundreds of potential employers at kibbutzim and moshav cooperative farming communities, but very few were interested. In the end, only 14 moshavim and two kibbutzim agreed to hire Sudanese migrants as agricultural workers.

Amnesty International also criticized the proposal yesterday. The group’s Israel director, Itay Epstein, said: “The crazy idea of housing refugees in work camps in the south by force is contrary to international law and to every international treaty to which Israel is a party.”

He added, “Israel is obligated to grant refugees and asylum seekers who come knocking on its door a safe haven [as well as certain rights], which include the right to live in dignity and to work and earn a living. They certainly should not be employed by force, as we profit from the distress of survivors of genocide and persecution.”

{Haaretz/Yair Israel}