Israel's government is seeking to triple their fines on businesses that employ illegal immigrants as part of a broader effort to deter African migrants from sneaking into Israel.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recently asked Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman to prepare legislative changes which would facilitate the move. The government is also considering the possibility of temporarily closing down businesses if they continue to employ "infiltrators" even after being fined.
"Those who employ infiltrators will be punished with very large fines," Netanyahu said at the weekly cabinet meeting on Sunday. "I see the phenomenon of being flooded by illegal, job-seeking infiltrators as a threat to the economy, to society, to security and to the delicate demographic fabric upon which the state of Israel is based."
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Netanyahu also said that work on a fence along Israel's southern border with Egypt was about half completed, and that he is working to accelerate construction on the rest. "We are determined to protect our border and our citizens' jobs. This is the right of any country and it is the obligation of any government that is concerned for the future of its people," he said.
Also on Sunday, Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai sent a letter to Netanyahu calling on him to stem the tide of Africans entering Israel, many of whom end up living in neighborhoods in southern Tel Aviv.
Citing what he called the "reality of growing distress and the real and deep cry of the residents of my city in the southern neighborhoods," Huldai wrote that the government has "abandoned its citizens in recent years to carry on their backs, in addition to their already difficult and existential problems, the burden of absorbing tens of thousands of labor migrants from Africa."
"Israel cannot continue to ignore the growing wave of infiltrators," Huldai concluded.
The government's characterization of African migrants as "work-seeking infiltrators" is disputed by a number of aid organizations, who argue that they are in fact asylum seekers from war-torn countries such as Sudan and Eritrea, who qualify for protection under international law.
ASSAF, a Tel Aviv-based organization that provides aid to African asylum seekers and refugees, issued a statement in response, blaming Netanyahu and his cabinet for their distress.
"Israel's government deprives asylum seekers of legal standing or access to social and economic rights. Lacking legal status, work permits and access to health and welfare services, the government creates a situation in which thousands of human beings, who have fled from wars and dictatorial regimes and are suffering from trauma, must struggle in Israel for survival, without any help from government institutions," the group said.
"Politicians, led by Prime Minister Netanyahu, claim on the one hand that they are 'work infiltrators,' who are not in any existential danger in their countries of origin, and on the other hand admit that they cannot be sent back there because doing so would endanger their lives. Most of the asylum seekers qualify for collective protection and are in Israel legally, but their requests for asylum are not being reviewed," read the statement.
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