Last week we filed a court petition* against the Minister of the Interior, the Population and Immigration Authority (PIBA) and other official entities, demanding cancellation of new regulations that will limit the labor rights of asylum-seekers and refugees living in Israel. These proposed regulations are not in line with Israeli law. The regulations state that asylum-seekers will not be able to work in 17 cities in the center of the country, in the Sharon district, in Jerusalem and in Eilat, with the exception of a few sectors characterized by hard physical labor and where the majority of workers are migrant workers. The regulations will not apply to parents of children enrolled in the education system, workers above 60 years old, and will not affect restaurant workers whose job started before the end of June 2022. For no apparent reason—except maybe the approaching elections — these regulations again bring upheaval to the small asylum-seeker community in Israel.

The official excuse for this new policy is, as always, to "offer relief to city centers" and better distribute asylum-seekers throughout the country by defining the sectors in which they are allowed to work. However, the regulations do not examine the reality on the ground or take into consideration the severe consequences this will have for the victims and their communities. PIBA claims that "the regulation were formulated after professional consultation and comprehensive brainstorming", but it seems that many critical details escaped the experts’ eyes during this review process.

This is what a cynical political campaign conducted on the backs of human beings looks like.

Our petition argues that:

🔎 The regulations punish asylum-seekers for the mere fact that they live in certain cities by cutting off their livelihood; they deprive asylum-seekers of social benefits  earned through hard work; and the regulations also expose asylum-seekers to exploitative and undocumented employment. Few, if any, asylum-seekers will be able to work in agriculture and construction, key sectors open to them under the regulations, without the necessary knowledge or training.
🔎 The regulations do not facilitate a fair geographical distribution, as is done in other parts of the world with new immigrants, and do not offer any assistance to the forced internal migrants. Asylum-seekers are portrayed by the regulations as a nuisance and are uprooted from places where they have worked and lived for over a decade. Meanwhile, their long-standing applications for asylum are not being reviewed.
🔎 There is no good economic or social welfare rationale for transferring laid-off workers belonging to a disadvantaged community to the periphery. Local authorities in the periphery are already dealing with unemployment on daily basis and find it difficult to support their residents. Those asylum-seekers removed from the "forbidden cities" will compete with Israeli job seekers at their new address, while increasing the pressure on everyone.
🔎 As many asylum-seekers have nowhere to go, the regulations will result in unemployment and undocumented work in the "forbidden cities", material and moral deterioration due to continuous uncertainty, and loss of income and accumulated social rights.
🔎 These regulations are more of the same: harassment of asylum-seekers as Israel avoids reviewing their asylum applications. Two years after cancelling key aspects of the harsh so-called “deposit law”, the state is advancing another campaign against asylum-seekers and pushing thousands of people into a corner.
🔎 The regulations will seriously harm young people. Even if they graduate with high marks, the regulations will force them to be manual workers. After graduation, they will have to start working in construction, in hotels or caregiving in homes for older persons - or leave their city.
🔎 In a reality where many sectors are eager for workers, the regulations will seriously harm employers and clients. Employers who barely managed to survive the Covid crisis, will find themselves facing a new chaotic situation. Co-workers who remain will be required to work twice as hard, and essential interpreters who will be displaced from the cities will leave behind a community in need of services that are not available.
🔎 As they are not citizens, asylum-seekers depend on their employers to provide them with health insurance. Mass layoffs and undocumented employment will stand in the way of workers being able to access health care.

Asylum-seekers, even today, exist on the periphery of Israeli society and face an environment saturated with racism and xenophobia. They work non-stop to survive, provide income to their children and support the more vulnerable individuals in the community who struggle to support themselves – those who are sick, young mothers, and those with physical and mental disabilities. The new regulations are expected to dismantle this fragile reality and lead to a sweeping deterioration of their economic conditions and worsen the feelings of despair. We are witnessing regulations that treat people as objects and determine whether they are useful or not based on the political mood and xenophobia.

The State of Israel would do well to recognize that many of these people’s difficulties arise from its own dawdling, to acknowledge its responsibility and put an end to a policy whose entire purpose is to make asylum-seekers’ lives miserable.
If our petition fails to block enactment of the regulations, Kav LaOved will be extremely busy dealing with its consequences for asylum-seekers. In light of the expected load on our refugee and asylum-seeker department, we need additional volunteers to help during the reception hours for asylum-seekers at Kav LaOved’s Tel Aviv branch on Tuesdays. Are you willing to donate a few hours a week to assist the people who are going to be harmed by these regulations “formulated after consultations with professionals and only after comprehensive brainstorming?” Lior would be very happy to hear from you: lior.m@kavlaoved.org.il

* The petition was submitted on behalf of Kav LaOved, ASSAF, Physicians for Human Rights, the Hotline for Refugees and Immigrants, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, ARDC, the Refugees’ Rights Clinic at Tel Aviv University and HIAS.