The far-right Israeli government is holding up approval of a bill intended to benefit asylum seekers during the coronavirus crisis by allowing them to withdraw a portion of their monies on deposit with the state.
It is estimated that more than half the estimated 36,000 asylum seekers in Israel have lost their jobs during the coronavirus crisis and they have almost no financial safety net for purchasing food and paying rent. Based on well-placed sources, Haaretz has reported that the delay in approving the law is the result of pressure from far-right organizations and racists who advocate deportation, as well as fear among senior politicians of being depicted as supporting asylum seekers.
The proposed bill being delayed would allow asylum seekers to withdraw up to 2,700 shekels ($750) every month from their personal funds on deposit. These funds have been collected ever since the May 2017 passage of the racist Deposit Law which the Knesset legislated to provide the asylum seekers with an incentive to leave Israel. Since then, by law, employers of asylum seekers are required to deduct 20% from their salaries and deposit them in personal accounts, as well as an additional 16%, just as employers pay into pension plans for Israeli workers. All accrued funds are meant to be returned to asylum seekers in full when they leave the country. However, Bank Mizrahi-Tefahot, which oversees the deposit accounts, is not required by law to send reports or summaries about the monies on deposit to the individual asylum seeking workers, nor are the accounts covered by the Law of Oversight over Financial Services in Israel. A petition against the racist Deposit Law is currently pending in Israel’s High Court of Justice.
Tali Ehrenthal, who heads the ASSAF Aid Organization for Refugees and Asylum Seekers in Israel, has said that the sums cited in the delayed legislation wouldn’t even cover rent for many migrant families. ASSAF estimates that between 50 and 75% of asylum seekers have lost their jobs because of the pandemic, given that many of them work in the restaurants and hotels. “But unlike Israeli citizens and permanent residents, they have no unemployment benefits, social security or a communal support system to rely on,” she said. “They’re left with nothing.”
Hadash has demanded the government return 100% of the monies on deposit for each asylum seeker. In a letter to the Histadrut chairman, Arnon Bar-David, the head of the Hadash faction in the Histadrut and leading Communist Party of Israel member, Dahil Khamed, has written, Tthe time has come to act and stop the abuse of asylum seekers, some of whom are members of the Histadrut.”
ASSAF has expanded its programs to assist the asylum seeker community, handing out vouchers and hundreds of food packages, diapers and baby formula for families in need. The aid group was supposed to shut down for the entire Passover holiday, but decided to keep a unit running due to increased need of asylum seekers.