State comptroller challenges Israel’s treatment of migrants

State comptroller challenges Israel’s treatment of migrants

Annual report pans shortage of healthcare and welfare for asylum seekers, and marks spike in ministers’ trips abroad

Marissa Newman is The Times of Israel political correspondent.

African migrants protest outside Holot detention center in southern Israel. February 17, 2014. (photo credit: FLASH90)
African migrants protest outside Holot detention center in southern Israel. February 17, 2014. (photo credit: FLASH90)

Israel may be in violation of its own Basic Law on human rights as well as international law with regard to its treatment of African migrants, a state comptroller report published Wednesday said.

State Comptroller Yosef Shapira’s annual report criticized a lack of official policy with regard to the migrants residing in Israel, specifically those who are not in holding facilities and are not slated to leave the country.

Shapira did not address the controversial voluntary emigration program, or the laws that allow Israel to detain refugees for up to a year. Rather, he claimed that while Israel has made strides in putting a cap on infiltration into Israel and has introduced incentives to encourage those migrants not held in detention facilities to leave the country, many are deprived of basic medical care and welfare services.

“The solutions the government has adopted, including sending the migrants to a third country, [allowing] migrants to voluntarily leave the country, and establishing detention centers, will reduce the number of migrants residing in Israel, but even if they are implemented, in the coming years there will still be tens of thousands of migrants in Israel outside of the custodial facilities and detention centers,” the report said, noting that the Saharonim and Holot holding centers in the south have a maximum capacity of 9,000.

The state comptroller urged Interior Minister Gideon Sa’ar and Justice Minister Tzipi Livni “to formulate as soon as possible a draft resolution whose implementation will ensure the upholding of the basic dignity of the migrants who aren’t being deported, and verify that it complies with the requirements of the law.

State Comptroller Yosef Shapira (photo credit: Uri Lenz/Flash90)
State Comptroller Yosef Shapira (photo credit: Uri Lenz/Flash90)

“It’s doubtful if the government’s actions with regard to ensuring… the migrants a place in society is consistent with the directive of the Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty, and with international law,” he wrote.

The questionable treatment manifests itself in three main areas, Shapira said, which include limited access to healthcare, welfare benefits and food.

The report also attacked the employment regulations for the migrants. While the law bars migrants from working, the Israeli government has ruled that the law not be enforced, freeing foreign nationals to seek jobs. However, the report concluded that since the non-enforcement was not widely publicized and the documentation issued to the migrants confusing, many employers remained unaware of the law — a measure that may compromise the migrants’ ability to obtain jobs and feed their families.

Shapira also castigated the selective issuance of welfare benefits to the migrants, which include assisting battered women and providing psychological treatment to refugees who had been tortured in other countries while en route to Israel. While Israel provides such services to those whose lives are considered to be threatened, the report insisted that since the migrants don’t have access to these offices, “it’s doubtful” the offices “identify the migrants whose well-being is in danger.”

The document also addressed the compromised quality of life for the Israeli residents of south Tel Aviv, where many of the African migrants reside. The area has seen a spike in crime and theft, and has left many residents fearing for their safety and their lives, it wrote.

In response to a draft of the comptroller report, the Prime Minister’s Office denied that migrants were not receiving sufficient care and that the government lacked an official policy. Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein responded that while Israel does not provide such services per se to migrants, that measure does not stand in violation of Israeli or international law. The state comptroller appealed to the attorney general to reconsider its position.

The Health Ministry, however, speculated that the reason migrants were denied services was to make the prospect of leaving Israel more attractive, and insisted that a change in those policies had to come from higher up in the government. The Welfare and Social Services Ministry, similarly, attributed the failure to provide the services to a lack of state policy.

Frequent flyers

The report also marked a dramatic increase in ministers flying abroad, as well as ministers accepting funding from foreign sources to cover travel expenses without getting explicit consent from the government.

 Labor party leader Isaac Herzog  with Likud MK Yariv Levin on January 28, 2014 (photo credit: Haim Zach/GPO/Flash90)
Labor party leader Isaac Herzog and Likud MK Yariv Levin, January 28, 2014 (photo credit: Haim Zach/GPO/Flash90)

The report does not include information about Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s trips abroad, which is set to be published at a later date.

In the previous government under Netanyahu, the number of trips abroad by ministers jumped by 60 percent, it reports. In the past eight years, ministers traveled 1,184 times, 28% of which were on foreign funds: 90 were sponsored by foreign governments, and 240 by Jewish or international organizations.

The state comptroller criticized the lack of official regulations on the subject, and appealed to the attorney general to establish guidelines on the matter to moderate the trips, particularly with regard to guidelines for the ministers’ spouses.

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