Thursday, February 03, 2011

On illegal immigration in Israel

The ongoing revolution in Egypt is a concern to Israel, since regardless of the peace treaty theirs is a "cold peace". War's unlikely, but a regime that expressed popular dislike for Israeli policies and for Jews wouldn't be a very good Israeli partner. The Globe and Mail has pointed out a perhaps-unexpected consequence of a deteriorating Egypt-Israeli relationship: there could be more illegal immigrants.

Israel is by far the most affluent nation to share a land border wi Africa and is a magnet for refugees – more than a thousand refugees make it across the Israeli-Egyptian border every month. In the past, Egypt’s army has attempted to stop them, but a hostile regime in Cairo, or an ineffective one, could turn this steady trickle into a flood that inundates Israel’s welfare systems.

As one would expect given the importance of displacement and migration in the history of Israel and the diasporas of Jews and Palestinians, immigration is a sensitive topic, illegal immigration more so. Notwithstanding the close links between Palestinians within and without Israel and geography, after the flight of Jews from the Middle East the region is of little, and decreasing, importance. When the post-Gulf War peace process began, Palestinians played a major role in the Israeli economy, provided unskilled labour at significant benefit to the Israeli economy and to Palestinian living standards. Ironically, when the peace process began, even before the post-2000 wave of suicide bombings Palestinians were displaced by less expensive foreign guest workers.

There were three hundred thousand foreigh workers in 2003, of fairly homogeneous background, half from Asia (China, Thailand, Philippines) and 45% from eastern Europe (mainly Romania and Moldova). The largest share work in construction, domestic service, and agriculture, but they can be found throughout the Israeli economy. (This collection of articles) goes into greater detail.) Many overstayed visas, and this, along with the standard concerns of immigrants debasing the national character and harming the economy, etc., has caused a recent crackdown on foreign guest workers.

A new Interior Ministry regulation would bar certain foreign nationals, who had illegally lived in Israel and then left of their own volition, from entering Israel again. This severely tightens immigration policy in Israel, as it bars the entry of foreign nationals from 60 countries exempt from visa requirements, including Russia, Romania, Colombia and the Philippines, for at least a year and up to a lifetime. It will affect tens of thousands of people, including the families of immigrants from the former Soviet Union and of former foreign workers, who were granted Israeli citizenship according to an arrangement for foreign workers' children.

According to the regulation, foreign workers from visa-exempt countries who remained in the country illegally for more than 30 days and then left on their own volition would be subject to a two-year "cooling-off" period. The price to be paid by foreigners who arrived as tourists but remained in the country illegally for a period of up to 30 days is slightly lower - a no-entry period of just one year. However, a foreign worker who is caught and deported from Israel will be barred from entering the country for a period of 10 years. A tourist or foreign worker residing in the country for over a year without a permit will be barred from returning for the rest of his or her lifetime, unless he or she receives a special permit from the immigration authorities in advance. According to the regulation, foreign workers who remained in Israel legally and departed as required will not be allowed to return for a year following their departure.

The notable thing about the illegal migration noted in the Globe and Maoil is that it actually does come from Israel's region. African refugees have a growing presence.

Most Africans [. . .] climb in through the window of the long, sprawling and largely open border with Egypt and then knock on the door for asylum. About 15,000 African hopefuls have entered the country this year, roughly double the amount of last year.

The government is determined to stop the influx. For starters, it is fencing off its 150-mile border with Egypt. Work began last month.

The border fence will cost about $370 million, but government indecision on immigration matters is costing dearly. Fear of the impact on politics, religion, demography, diplomacy and the economy has paralyzed decision-makers, negating a cohesive immigration policy. Years of Band-Aid solutions have produced a situation that is rapidly approaching a crisis.

All non-Jewish foreigners challenge Israel's aspirations for a Jewish majority and character while treating others fairly. But the African issue offers a test of humanitarianism and international law -- and social tolerance too.

Largely lumped together as "infiltrators," many of the Africans come from war-torn regions. Most come from Eritrea; Sudan is a close second, with a number from Ivory Coast and other countries. All asylum seekers undergo a process of "refugee status determination, " or RSD, except for Sudanese and Eritreans, who enjoy a temporary sweeping protection.

The Eritreans are predominantly men of military age, fleeing their country's military draft, while the Sudanese tend to be refugees from Darfur and southern Sudan. Both these populations certainly have any number of incentives to flee their homelands and to try to find new lives in Israel, while the older migration route to Libya is now profoundly unsafe. The size of future influxes of Sudanese and Eritreans into Israel--and, perhaps, of other migrants from the Middle East--depends on the enforcement of border controls by Israel and its neighbours.

Will Israel's neighbours keep illegal migrants out from Israel? Who knows. Leaving their general dislike for Israel aside, they do have incentives not to have large refugee populations accumulate in their own countries. Blind eyes are quite imaginable.


Anonymous said...

Israel is by far the most affluent nation to share a land border with Africa

Unless one counts Spain via Ceuta and Melilla, Israel is also the only country to share a land border with Africa ...


Luke Lea said...

Very nice article. I just discovered your blog via GNXP.

Nobody said...

The immigrant population is heavily unbalanced on the gender side. It's mostly young males who dare journey across the desert with a Bedouin guide while dodging bullets of Egyptian border guards. It's just a matter of time before this thing explodes

Standifer said...

It would not surprise me if more immigration is the result of recent events and upheaval in Egypt. I'm an eb-5 green card holder in the US, and I have been to Egypt. Now looking forward to seeing new fact of that bright country.

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