MKs Hope New Savings Rule Will Encourage African Migrants to Go Home

YERUSHALAYIM -
Eritrean migrants in Yerushalayim. (Noam Moskowitz/Flash90)

African migrants who seek asylum in Israel will have to deposit 20 percent of the money they earn in Israel into a special account that they will be allowed to cash out only when they leave Israel. The new requirement goes into effect in April, after the Knesset approved it in its second and third readings. Employers will also have to donate to the “fund,” adding 16 percent of the money earned by migrants to their account.

The Knesset authorized the plan in December 2014, as part of legislation to prevent migrants from entering the country illegally. Various bureaucratic procedures prevented the program from going into effect until now, among them determining which bank would be selected to hold the deposits. After a tender, Mizrachi-Tefahot was chosen as that bank.

The logic behind the bill seeks to convince migrants to return to their home countries, and provides them with a savings account that they can take with them. Many of the African migrants who sneak into the country, Israel suspects, are here for economic opportunities, although every single one arrives claiming refugee status, saying that they cannot return home for fear of persecution. Cases are supposed to be adjudicated by a special court that establishes the veracity of the claim. If the claim is found to be valid, the claimant receives a visa that allows them to remain in Israel.

If the case is not found to have merit, the claimant receives a deportation date. Under the new law, migrants who are given a deportation date can forfeit most of the money in the account if they fail to leave the country on time.

The law is seen as an alternative to detaining migrants while their cases are decided. In order to examine the claims on a case-by-case basis, Israel built the Holot detention camp in its extreme south. Detained refugees are held there until the investigation against them is conducted. Because of the large number of refugees that need to be examined, the government’s original law, passed in 2013, provided for stays of up to 20 months in the detention facility. But advocacy groups working on behalf of the refugees appealed to the High Court, which struck down key elements of the law, on the basis of its violation of several Basic Laws, which the court has positioned as Israel’s constitutional laws.

In August, the court ordered the state to release long-term residents of the facility or to prove its case against them and deport them. Over 1,100 detainees were released, but as they are still in Israel illegally, many were re-arrested, and were joined by others. Several dozen new detainees are added every day.

The facility has a capacity of about 3,000, and is already beyond capacity. Under the new law, migrants who have jobs will be able to continue working, while at the same time preparing to leave — and the threat that they could lose their “savings” if their refugee claims are rejected, it is hoped, will be sufficient to urge them to leave voluntarily.