What Can Israel Do to Calm Unrest Over Immigration?

Article Summary
The recent wave of hate for illegal African immigrants in Israel included a violent race riot. Just before it happened, Israeli official Ben-Ami warned about the danger. While some denounce political propaganda and distorted demographic statistics, he asserts the danger of unchecked African immigration and urges the government to act quickly.

In recent days, the media has launched a campaign — for which it deserves credit — for raising public awareness with regard to two major issues weighing on Israeli society: escalating violence and the problem of illegal African migrants. It is quite clear that the surging violence requires a global systemic solution and cannot be solved by any one single body. As to the problem of immigration, the public expects it to be solved at a stroke, once and for all. However, it is not going to happen, and let me explain why.

Hundreds of aliens, if not more, are crossing the border from Egypt to Israel every month. This year alone, over 8,000 illegal immigrants have already entered Israel and I expect the figure to reach as high as 20,000 by the end of the year. This influx of migrants flooding Israel has subsequently given rise to some associated phenomena — family reunions between immigrants and their spouses, singles looking for mates in their country of origin and quite a large number of underage youths crossing the border on their own in search of work in Israel, having been told that they can find work here. Beyond the social problem in the making, these are no doubt disturbing phenomena.

For years, the issue of illegal immigrants has been solely the business of Israel's Population and Immigration Authority and the residents of the poorer neighborhoods, where the immigrants habitually flock. Public attention was drawn to the issue in exceptional cases alone. However, we have reached a point where it is already evident and commonly recognized that we are inside a sizzling volcano that is bound to erupt at any moment.

As with the problem of violence, whose solution requires systematic collaboration of all the parties involved, for the problem of illegal migrants to be resolved, all the relevant bodies have to acknowledge its severity and the urgent need to address it. The attempt on the part of various parties to shun responsibility or blame others for the dismal situation is not going to lead us anywhere. It is only when we all take responsibility and join forces that we will be able to move ahead toward a real and effective solution for the problem.

And the solution is in our hands. The government has already made its statement and all that remains is to implement its decision. The Defense Ministry is accelerating the erection of the fence along the border with Egypt and enlarging the detention center near the Egyptian border to accommodate the thousands of illegal immigrants. At the same time, the Foreign Ministry should step up political negotiations to find ways to return them to their homelands. The Population and Immigration Authority is all set to enforce the law against employers of illegal immigrants and will do so once it gets the green light.

However, the problem will not be solved in a day or two. It will not be solved merely by sending the migrants back to their countries of origin. It will not be solved by granting them work permits or legalizing their stay here. Quite the reverse! The really big problem is the hundreds of thousands expecting to find work, already on their way to Israel. If we are really determined to solve the problem, all we have to do is to implement the government decisions — no reinventing the wheel is required here.

Being familiar with the reality on the ground, I can say with certainty that in the not-too-far future, we are likely to witness in out towns and cities unrest and riots of the kind that flared up in the immigrants' quarters of quite a few European cities. We are still at a stage where such a conflagration can be prevented, but it is not at all sure to last for long.

The author is the director-general of the Israeli Ministry of Interior's Population and Immigration Authority.

Found in: violence, riot, refugees, immigration, demonstration, demographic statistics, danger, population administration, israel, african infiltrators

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