MK seeking to expel migrants wants more foreign workers

MK seeking to expel migrants wants more foreign workers

Miri Regev, who called African asylum-seekers a 'cancer,' says that without 34,000 new laborers, housing reforms will stall

Lazar Berman is a former breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Culture Minister Miri Regev (Uri Lenz/Flash90)
Culture Minister Miri Regev (Uri Lenz/Flash90)

The parliamentarian leading efforts to expel African migrants from the country called Tuesday for tens of thousands of new foreign workers to be allowed into the country.

Likud MK Miri Regev, known for her fiery comments against asylum-seekers from Africa, said the lack of foreign workers was holding up critical building projects needed to ease a housing crunch.

“There are only 8,000 foreign workers in Israel,” Regev wrote on her Facebook page. “This cap holds up the building reforms that the government itself is promoting.”

The Knesset passed a housing reform bill in December 2013 that aimed to streamline the construction approval process to address the lack of affordable housing in the country.

According to Regev, the head of the builders union said that Israel needed another 34,000 foreign workers in order to keep up with this year’s goal of 60,000 new housing units.

“The government must advance significantly the bringing in of foreign workers. If we lift the cap on foreign workers, we can finish 100,000 apartments a year.”

Hadash MK Dov Khenin assailed Regev’s statement in light of her past positions.

“Isn’t it incredible,” he wrote on his Facebook page, that the MK “who calls for the expulsion of tens of thousands of asylum-seekers from Israel — who everyone knows face life-threatening danger — calls at the same time to import tens of thousands of other foreign workers?”

“This revolving door policy comes at the expense of the residents of neighborhoods with concentrations of asylum-seekers who can’t work, and comes at the expense of the asylum-seekers imprisoned without trial instead of allowing them to work while they are here, something that would allow a more sensible geographical dispersion,” he wrote.

Regev has sparked controversy in the past for inflammatory statements against African migrants, including a statement in which she called Sudanese migrants “a cancer in our body.” Regev also sponsored a bill that would allow the government to keep migrants in holding facilities for a year.

While most migrants in Israel say they are seeking refugee status, the Israeli government has remained firm in its stance that the vast majority of the 60,000 are not refugees at all, but rather illegal migrants who came to Israel seeking economic gain.

Israel does not allow the African migrants to work outside of their detention center, in the hope that the policy will reduce their desire to reach Israel.

Regev indicated that she intends to approach Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Interior Minister Gideon Sa’ar to tell them that there is no point in advancing the housing reforms while “another hand in government hinders the progress of construction.”

There are currently 200,000 construction workers in Israel, according to Haaretz, including 5,500 workers from China, Moldova, and Bulgaria.

The government approved another 8,000 workers, but has run into roadblocks while negotiating agreements on the workers with their host countries. Talks between Israel and Romania stalled over a Romanian demand that its citizens not work in settlements.

Sudanese refugees demonstrate in front of the Knesset in protest of the new "Holot" detention camp for illegal migrants, on Monday, December 17, 2013. (photo credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Sudanese refugees demonstrate in front of the Knesset in protest of the new ‘Holot’ detention camp for illegal migrants, on Monday, December 17, 2013. (photo credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The plight of the African migrants rose to the forefront lately after a series of large protests in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem earlier this month. On Wednesday, refugees in Europe, the US and Canada plan to protest outside Israeli embassies in solidarity with asylum-seekers, who demand the Israeli government consider their request to become refugees.

A rally is also planned Wednesday afternoon in Tel Aviv, where migrants will march from Levinsky Park to Herbert Samuel Street.

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