Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Due to rising unemployment numbers, Israeli government officials call for massive deportation of foreign laborers

Conal Urquhart:

The low rents of Tel Aviv's Neve Shaanan district draw drug dealers, prostitutes and foreign workers, said a man from Nigeria who identified himself only as David, but the foreign workers are the only ones routinely hunted by the police.

Since the early 1990s, when Israel reduced the number of Palestinian workers it would allow in the country, it has relied on large numbers of foreign workers from developing nations and Eastern Europe to do manual jobs. The workers come hoping for relatively high wages, but many say they find their promised land offers little more than exploitation and, according to Israeli human rights activists, "slavery conditions."

And, in response to high unemployment rates in Israel in 2002, the government of Ariel Sharon decided to send home 263,000 foreign workers - 10 percent of Israel's workforce.

David watched nervously from a cafe recently as a van of immigrant police drove past. The two officers normally stop suspicious people and demand their papers and, if not satisfied, put them in the van and drive on until it is full. At the police station, they verify the identity of the detainees and let them go or deport them.

40,000 entering annually

The majority of foreign workers arrived in the years after the first intifada began in 1989, when Palestinians were prevented from entering Israel to work. By last year, with the help of 460 immigration police - acting legally - Israel had repatriated 116,000 people.

Hanan Zohar, director of the foreign workers' pressure group Kav LaOved, said: "In spite of this, there are around 40,000 foreign workers entering the country per year, coming from Eastern Europe, Turkey, Nepal, China, the Philippines and other countries." The foreign workers pay Israeli middlemen, who link them to an employer and provide them with a visa. Zohar said the Chinese pay $10,000 to come to Israel, while the Turks pay only $2,000.

"It is a big business and the immigration police are the servants of this business," she said. "They ensure a constant cycle of workers."

Zohar believes the African community was particularly targeted because they came to Israel independently without paying a fee. This meant they were able to choose where they worked. "Their conditions were better than other workers. Because they were not tied to employers, they were not slaves," she said, referring to the fact that most foreign workers are tied to employers by the fees they have to pay, regardless of how they are treated.

David, 35, says he is one of the few Africans to have avoided detection. His wife and two children were arrested and deported after a raid on their apartment last year. "I will stay here until I have provided for my children's education," he said. "That's why I am here - to sustain my family. I can't sleep easy or walk the streets normally, but what else can I do?"

David, not his real name, has a degree in drama and philosophy from Nigeria but cleans houses in Israel for $6.73 an hour. In a good month, he sends $570 to his family in Nigeria.

Aziz Diouf, 37, a now-legal immigrant from Senegal, said the Neve Shaanan district was once a thriving commercial center that catered to non-Jewish immigrants from the former Soviet Union, south Asia and Africa. "In this area you could not move for Africans; now there are virtually none. To have avoided detection, you have to be invisible," he said.

The police have targeted Africans, Indians and South Americans because they stand out from the crowd, he said. "There are thousands of new illegal Russian immigrants from the Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova. They blend in. With other groups like the Filipinos, if they arrest 20, they might find one who is illegal so they don't bother."

Diouf, who writes about foreign workers for an Israeli weekly newspaper, said the police initially used heavy-handed tactics, which encouraged people to volunteer for deportation. Now, the authorities rely primarily on informers who are themselves illegal immigrants.

New legal status for foreign workers' kids splits students

Cabinet approves residency for children of illegal foreigners

Cabinet to debate immigration revolution

2 Comments:

At 9:13 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Odd with all the criticism of Israel we don't hear any criticism of their admitted "racial profiling" and mass roundups and deportations of foreigners. These non-Palestinian foreigners apparently receive no suppport from the Islamic propaganda machine and its collaborators in the developed world.

 
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