Some 3,000 African asylum-seekers have to leave Tel Aviv because of an August 2008 ruling by the Israeli Ministry of the Interior. The ruling permits asylum-seekers to reside and work only in towns and cities north of Hadera and south of Gedera, about an hour’s drive from Tel Aviv, where they now live.
The ruling was initially imposed only on newcomers but in recent months asylum-seekers living in Israel for longer periods have experienced the same constraints on their work permits, forcing them to leave their homes.
Unemployment is rife in Israel’s south and north while in Tel Aviv asylum-seekers can find menial jobs as street-sweepers or restaurant workers and are able to support their families. Tel Aviv also has the one school in Israel that caters to the special needs of asylum-seekers’ children – the Bialik Elementary and High School in southern Tel Aviv.
Romm Levkovits, a spokesperson for the “Moked” (hot line for foreign workers), confirmed that: “This rule uproots scores of asylum-seekers and forces them to start life anew far away from their communities, and far from the services offered to them here, like free clinics and schools. It also forces them to be far from their jobs.” On 17 February, the asylum-seekers protested in Tel Aviv against this regulation asking the government to allow them to remain in Israel’s main city.
“We feel that this is a move aimed at returning the asylum-seekers to work in agriculture at less than minimum wages. Asylum-seekers have worked before in agriculture and were treated harshly by their employers. They were finally allowed to leave the Kibbutzim [collective farms] and start a normal life, now it seems that someone in the Population Administration [part of the interior ministry] wants to force them back into ‘slave labour’,” According to a source in the aid community.
This allegation follows Israel’s attempt to reduce the number of foreign workers needed for agricultural work. However, Sabine Haddad, an interior ministry spokesperson, has claimed that normal jobs were available outside Tel Aviv.