Israel currently hosts around 28,000 asylum seekers, mostly from Eritrea and Sudan, but including other African countries. Most asylum seekers in Israel are employed in hotels and restaurants as well as in subcontracting or informal jobs where they are easy prey for employers who do not pay over-time, pensions and other social rights. Their status in Israel remains unstable as Israel does not process asylum requests and actively encourages them to leave the country. One such encouragement, a Deposit Law regulation, which required employers to deposit 20% of refugees’ salaries in a dedicated account, retrievable only once they leave the country for good, was overturned in spring of 2020 in a Supreme Court case launched by Kav LaOved and Tel Aviv University’s Legal Clinic.
According to Article 2 of the UN Convention on Refugees (1951), “a refugee [is a person with] a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion…”
Quite a few sectors of Israeli society fit this definition:
Refugees – People who have submitted a request to the RSD (Refugee Status Determination) unit of the Ministry of Interior and have requested approval. These people are eligible for temporary residence, renewed each year in Israel, as well as public health insurance and social rights (eligible for all residents).
Asylum Seekrs – People who have submitted a request to the RSD unit and are currently waiting for a decision regarding their status.
Temporary Protection Group – People who are prohibited from submitting a request for asylum, and are automatically tranferred to the infiltrators unit. These are citizens from countries that have been declared as dangerous by representatives of the UN Refugee Agency. These countries include Eritrea, Sudan, and the Republic of the Congo.
According to official reports by the Migration and Population Authority, there are close to 57,000 refugees and asylum seekers in Israel, of which 50% are from Eritrea and 25% from Sudan. Thes are countries which have been agreed upon by Israel in the UN Convention on Refugees as dangerous countries whose refugees cannot be deported.
As a result of the untimely cancellation of visas for migrant workers in the field of tourism, many refugees have already been well absorved and live in and close to major tourist cities. Over the years refugees have integrated into a variety of jobs, characterized by physical labor, long hours, and low salaries (many times less then minimum wage); For example dishwashing in restaurants, construction, industry, and more.
In the past few years, public discourse regarding refugees has spiraled into violence and racism. Much of the incitement against refugees was introduced by the highest echelons of society – ministers and public figures have willingly expressed their harsh resistance towards refugees. Israeli residents living in disadvantaged neighborhoods have been most affected by the arrival of refugees, and have been forced to share the little resources that brought them to those neighborhoods in the first place.
This situation has caused a time bomb that to our great misfortune has exploded and resulted in numerous acts of violence against migrants and refugees. Kav LaOved, together with other organizations, call for a status arrangement to be made for those that cannot be deported from Israel and to divide the burden of absorption equally and fairly among all relevant bodies.
Withholding work visas
Refugees and asylum seekers live in Israel under temporary group protection, a minority of which is currently waiting for an answer regarding their request for personal asylum. A decisive majority of these refugees and asylum seekers have no work visa. However, given the fact that the state does provide any socio-economic support, the Ministry of Interior has announced that it will not fine employers of refugees until further notice. Without any proper status and the potential cancelation of group protection, refugees and asylum seekers are exposed to abuse and harm, weakening the labor market.
Abuse in short-term employment
After not receiving a work visa, many refugees resort to short-term, occasional employment which in most cases is the most difficult and dangerous, withholds social rights and payment to National Insurance by proving no permanent employer. Most of the employers don’t give salary stabs or report hours, nor provide a written agreement of employment to the worker. Some workers arrive to Kav LaOved after not receiving a salary for several days of work, and have no way of proving their terms of employment.
Another large group that arrives at Kav LaOved is refugees that work through human resource agencies and construction companies. They work for minimum wage, do not receive reparations, and wait weeks, sometimes months, for jobs from their employers. In addition, employers from many of these companies renounce their responsibility to set aside money for pensions for workers.
Petition to the High Court of Justice Granting Work Visas to Refugees- Kav LaOved, together with other organizations demanded that refugees be granted work visas as long as they are situated in Israel and given approval by the Ministry of Interior. The petition was not fully accepted, however approval by the Ministry of Interior not to fine employers of refugees was the first step in recognizing that a person who cannot return to his/her homeland and remain in the protection of Israel is eligible to work and establish a life honorably.
Greater Awareness of the Rights of Asylum Seekers and Refugees – In the past, the majority of complaints received by Kav LaOved were unpaid salaries. Today refugees are aware of their rights, search for permanent employment and arrive at Kav LaOved in order to confirm if they have received their social rights. The work with the refugee community, the constant dialogue regarding business practice and behavior with employers, and legal intervention when needed- all this has significantly improved the employment situation of refugees and asylum seekers today.