Amnesty slams Knesset anti-infiltration bill; Netanyahu defends Israel’s right to protect its borders

Amnesty International harshly criticizes Knesset’s revised anti-infiltrator bill. The Israeli PM says they are “illegal migrant labor infiltrators… We have the right, as in every country, to supervise our borders.”

By: Batya Jerenberg

In a 9-7 vote, the Knesset’s Internal Affairs Committee approved Wednesday for a second and third reading a new iteration of a bill regulating the deportation or incarceration of illegal African migrants.

Amnesty International put out a statement vigorously objecting to many of the bill’s provisions that it says restricts the fundamental rights of the 35,000 people whom they call refugees and whom the Israeli government refers to as economic migrants who have illegally entered the country. Most are from Eritrea and Sudan, and the vast majority are male.

One of the provisions Amnesty found most objectionable gives sole authority to the Interior Minister to ban all infiltrators from Tel Aviv – where most of them currently reside, mostly in the poorer, southern section. This denies the migrants their fundamental right to the freedom of movement, according to the human rights organization, and does not take into account that Tel Aviv is also the only place where they can receive at least partial health care, social and education services.

They said that the committee refused the request of opposition members to differentiate between migrants, such as women, children or the disabled, and ensure that they be distanced from Tel Aviv only to places where they would be guaranteed a minimal health and welfare system.

This is “shameful cold-heartedness by the descendants of refugees who have forgotten their past,” Amnesty charged.

 

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has addressed the “problem of illegal infiltrators,” referring to the influx of migrants from African countries who are generally not asylum seekers and instead seek greater economic and employment prospects in Israel.

Neighborhood residents ‘cannot go unescorted’

In September, Netanyahu visited south Tel Aviv together with Ministers Gilad Erdan and Miri Regev and Member of Knesset Amir Ohana, where they met with residents and heard about their experiences related to the matter. “I accompanied 72-year-old Sophia to the sixth floor of the building in which she lives, all of which is now, except for her, and if I am not mistaken, perhaps another tenant, inhabited by illegal infiltrators. … [S]he cannot go unescorted, and she goes back up at the end of the day with great difficulty,” Netanyahu lamented, referring to the significant increase in violence crime since the infiltration.

After the visit, Netanyahu announced the creation of “a special ministerial team” to meet with resident representatives “to advance practical solutions to this problem,” “to return these neighborhoods to the residents,” and “to remove [illegal infiltrators] from the State of Israel, as we have already removed some 20,000 illegal infiltrators, whose place is not here.”

The prime minister told the cabinet meeting that few are refugees; rather, “they are illegal migrant labor infiltrators in the State of Israel. And we have the right, as in every country, to supervise our borders and remove from our borders anyone who is illegally here.”

Rate of 20,000 infiltrators per year

“We reached a rate of about 20,000 infiltrators per year. Without building the fence we would easily have reached at least 100,000 a year in view of what is happening in Africa. Meaning that within a decade, and we are soon approaching the end of that decade, the state would stop being the Jewish state,” Netanyahu stated.

Stopping the influx of migrants is only one side of Israel’s response, as the tiny nation is also heavily involved in humanitarian and economic efforts to address the underlying issues that contribute to the infiltrator crisis. “We have already created the foundation in my visits to Africa and in my conversations with African leaders. We have created a base of countries willing to absorb these infiltrators, and now we may have to improve not only the legislation, but also the agreements,” Netanyahu noted.

Rwanda was recently identified in the media to be at least one of the countries that has agreed to take in Israel’s deportees. According to the reported agreement between the two countries, Israel would pay Rwanda $5,000 for each asylum seeker who goes there, while paying $3,000 to each migrant who leaves.