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Restaurateurs protest regulation that will bar asylum seekers from working

‘Israelis aren’t interested in this kind of job’: Ruling set to take effect in October will harm restaurant, delivery and cleaning industries, owners say

African asylum seekers and human rights activists protest against deportation of asylum seekers at Rabin Square in Tel Aviv on March 24, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Illustrative: African asylum seekers and human rights activists protest against deportation of asylum seekers at Rabin Square in Tel Aviv on March 24, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Restaurateurs and other business owners have protested a government regulation that will bar asylum seekers from working, saying the migrants are necessary to keep some industries functioning.

Tens of thousands of asylum seekers live in Israel, most from war-torn east African nations. The majority have been kept in legal limbo for over a decade, with only basic civil rights, and have not been granted refugee status.

A regulation issued by the Population and Immigration Authority will prevent the migrants from legally working, beginning in October, Channel 13 reported.

The ruling is expected to cause a serious worker shortage, particularly in the restaurant industry, which will have consequences for consumers, owners said.

It also isn’t clear how the thousands of migrants affected by the ruling will make a living.

Yakir Lisitzki, a representative from the Israeli Restaurateurs Association, said Israeli restaurants would not be able to function without the workers, many of whom wash dishes or cook in the kitchens.

“Israeli workers aren’t interested in working in this kind of job. They’re not interested in working as cleaners,” he said.

Many asylum seekers also work for food delivery companies and for cleaning firms that service offices and malls.

David Hadar, an owner of two bars, said, “It’s not clear what the story is. At the end of the day, there won’t be another way besides bringing in manpower into Israel from abroad.”

“If this regulation really passes and really goes through as it is, we’re going to be hurt, without a doubt,” he said. “There’s a chance this is political, because of elections. It’s a shame that it’s on our backs, the business owners.”

According to the regulation issued in June, asylum seekers will not be permitted to work in Jerusalem, Eilat, Netanyahu, Ashdod, or Tel Aviv and its surrounding suburbs. The areas represent much of Israel’s population centers, and the areas where most migrants live.

The Federation of Israeli Chambers of Commerce protested against the decision in a letter to Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked, indicating it will attempt to take the issue to the Supreme Court.

In its appeal to Shaked, the association said preventing people from working “only due to their origin” was like “the experience of the dark days for our nation when we were in exile, subject to systematic and humiliating antisemitism.”

“These are measures that are not appropriate for the State of Israel,” said Oriel Lin, the head of the Federation of Israeli Chambers of Commerce. “These are human beings.”

Israel’s unemployment as of June was 3.3%, back down to pre-COVID levels.

Related: Offered little hope, African migrants despair of Israel as a refuge

At least 30,000 African migrants fled to Israel to escape wars, brutal dictatorships and other hardships starting around 2006. The migration was halted in 2013 when Israel completed a fence along the Egyptian border. Most are from Eritrea and Sudan.

Israel has provided them a safe haven from violence, but has also proven unwilling to recognize them as refugees or otherwise integrate them in most cases.

According to a 2020 report from the Tel Aviv-based Hotline for Refugees and Migrants, 18,000 Eritreans and 5,000 Sudanese migrants had applied for asylum. Only a few dozen received the status under the Refugee Convention, according to the Interior Ministry’s Population and Immigration Authority.

They are allowed to remain in Israel, but for most of them, only with the most basic of civil rights. The policy, along with other measures, appears to an attempt to make sure African migrants are unable to get too comfortable in Israel and in many cases want to leave. Other steps toward the same goal taken by successive governments toward this end have been curbed or struck down by the High Court.

In the past, Israel jailed some of the migrants at the now-closed Holot Detention Center in the south and another facility, and attempted to send some of them back to African countries.

Shaked has long opposed the integration of the African migrants, arguing they are really just looking to better their lives economically in Israel. Former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke out against them while he was premier, saying that “most of them are looking for jobs.”

A small but vocal group of Israelis in south Tel Aviv, where many of the migrants live, have clamored for their removal for years.

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