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Spotlight on Africa

It’s just gotten tougher for Israel's African migrants

Audio 09:54
FILE PHOTO: African migrants attend a protest at Rabin Square in Tel Aviv, Israel January 5, 2014.
FILE PHOTO: African migrants attend a protest at Rabin Square in Tel Aviv, Israel January 5, 2014. REUTERS/Nir Elias/File Photo

New tax rules in Israel could leave hundreds of African migrants worse off than they are. In May, the government introduced a new deposit law, enabling the governemnt  to take 20 percent of migrants' salaries each month and place it out of reach.


The money can only be accessed once they leave the country. Rights groups say the policy is designed to force them out of the country.

"We're not pressuring you to leave but will make your life miserable so you decide to leave," Anwar Suliman, a Darfuri refugee living in Israel since 2008, told RFI .

"Every time the state  makes a different law, different pressure, but we said we can't go back right now."

Suliman fled Darfur in 2003 at the onset of the civil war, beginning a perillous journey from Libya across the Sinai peninsula.

Like thousands of African migrants, mostly from Eritrea and Sudan, he came to Israel seeking asylum.

Instead, he spent five years at the Holot Open detention centre in Israel’s Negev desert close to the Egyptian border, waiting for his request to be processed.

"I stayed there for a year and a half, and after I was released with the same status, which doesn't allow me to work, or to study. We want the state to answer for our asylum, if the state really knows we're a refugee it has to give us a good status to live with dignity."

Uneasy refuge

Since its creation in 1948, Israel has been a haven for Jews fleeing persecution. But for nearly a decade, it has struggled to deal with thousands of non Jewish-Africans who entered the country illegally, seeking asylum or work.

"Israel never saw itself as a country of non-Jewish immigration," Jean-Marc Liling, Director of the Centre for International Migration and Integration (CIMI) told RFI.

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, sees asylum seekers - whom he calls "infiltrators" - as a threat to Israel's character as a Jewish democratic state.

Yet despite its attempts to preserve its Jewish identity, Liling argues that this is largely an illusion.

"Even by declaring itself a Jewish state, Israel still has a large non-Jewish minority," he says, before adding that the current government doesn't see itself as "open for long term settlement and integration of non-Jewish migrants."

RFI contacted several government officials for comment, none of them responded before publication.

Long wait for asylum

Israel has refused to consider all but a handful of asylum requests - even though most have escaped war-torn regions and authoritarian dictatorships.

"Until now the state didn't check our asylum, like me I placed a form of asylum in 2013. To this day, I still haven't received an answer," Suliman says.

"Any country has the right to want to regulate who comes in, who comes out," says Liling.

"The question is what the repercussions on the ground will be. We're talking about 40,000 people. If you impoverish and make the everyday lives of these people who are living in the most vulnerable neighbourhoods of Israeli cities. Will it not boomerang right back on the Israeli population?" he asks.

Migrants Vs. asylum seekers

What has rattled rights activists is the fact that the deduction law makes no distinction between migrant workers and asylum seekers.

On the one hand, the state wants to encourage legal migrant workers to leave after their five year visa expires, explains Liling "by forcing them to put to the side 20 percent of their salaries in a deposit, the sum of which they will get back when they leave the country."

The problem he says is that "the Eritrean and Sudanese that are in Israel live in very, precarious conditions. That the 20 percent sum that is being deposited into an account until they leave the country is making their status, and their everyday situation all the more precarious.”

Under pressure

"Look the salary in general people get 1000 dollar in a month. If you take 20 percent from this and then pay the taxes - around 40 percent - in general there's only 34 percent left from all the salary, and then the family cannot pay the appartment, cannot pay the food," complains Suliman.

Aid workers say that since the new law was implemented, there has been an increase in reports of asylum seekers being fired from jobs, because on top of the 20% threshold, employers who choose to employ asylum seekers also have to pay a 16% tax, making it too expensive to employ them.

Pressure is growing on authorities to back down on the controversial law. In March, a coalition of human rights organizations filed a petition asking the High Court to strike down the deduction law. Their hearing is expected to go ahead later this month.

"Now this is a new law, it start only for one month," says Suliman. "But after like three months I think it will make a lot of pressure for us."

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