A report published by the Hotline for Migrant Workers on Monday showed that the years in which now Interior Minister Eli Yishai was responsible for setting permit quotas for foreign workers in Israel as Industry, Trade and Labor minister were the peak years in the issuing of work permits to foreigners in Israel.
According to the report, Yishai himself, who now vows to have all illegal immigrants removed from Israel, signed on the entrance of over half a million migrant workers to Israel.
So far, 2008 holds the all-time record, with 118,000 work permits being granted to foreign workers under then Industry, Trade and Labor Minister Eli Yishai. But in reality, this record has already been broken, since as of September, 2009, three months before the end of the year, 120,000 work permits were already granted.
Foreign workers' kids in Tel Aviv school last month (Photo: AFP)
The report marks 10 years since the organization was founded, and it follows the changes that have taken place in fields such as permits issued to foreign workers, human trafficking, refugees and their status in Israel and the status of foreign families with children.
45% of foreign workers are illegal
In most of the years in the past decade, the issuing of work permits to foreigners was in the hands of Shas, and the numbers were constantly rising. Between the years 2003 – 2005, when Ehud Olmert served as industry, trade and labor minister, there was a brief decline in the number of permits. But halfway through 2005, as Yishai resumed his post, the number of permits issued spiked again, and since then has risen some 20%.
The various governments over the years would then issue permits to "import" new workers instead of renewing the existing permits that had expired, turning more and more migrant workers into illegal aliens by the day.
According to the report, 45% of the migrant workers in Israel today are illegal. This figure has been declining since the start of the decade, partly because of the constant rise in the number of permits, but also because of the deportation policy that kicked off in 1995. The report says that in the past decade, 71,500 migrant workers were deported from Israel.
Chinese workers arguing over employment conditions (Photo: Ofer Amram)
The major deportations started in September 2002, with the formation of the immigration police, and between the years 2003 – 2004, some 38,000 migrants were deported – over half the number of migrants deported throughout the decade.
Over the years, the organization's volunteers held 1,150 visits in various detention centers around Israel and gave paralegal aid to over 8,000 migrants.
Another field covered in the report is human trafficking. Over the last decade, the hotline aided over 800 victims of human trafficking – mostly women, traded for prostitution. The victims came from 25 different countries.
The report shows a drop in the number of human trafficking victims for the purpose of prostitution since 2007, but shows a rise in the number of human trafficking victims for other purposes, such as enslavement for housekeeping, construction and agriculture.
In 2006 the organization uncovered a trend of "exporting" Israeli women abroad for prostitution, and the complaints are currently under investigation. The organization said, "The sex industry has not disappeared; it has changed its face. Israeli women in the sex industry suffer from enslavement, exploitation, violence and other practices that were commonly carried out against women traded abroad."
The last part of the report deals with the refugees living in Israel. According to the numbers, there are currently 19,000 asylum seekers in Israel – almost all of which are African, coming mainly from Mauritania (9,000) and Sudan (7,000). Another 300 come from The Congo. Nearly 2,000 of the refugees are children.
The hotline has given direct aide to some 5,300 of the refugees, and helped have over 1,500 of them released from prison. 1,500 remain in detention.
The vast majority of asylum seekers in Israel do not get the official status of a refugee. According to the report, ever since Israel singed the Refugee Convention treaty in 1951, only 170 people have been declared refugees by the state, and at east 100 of them have since left the country.
The report also covers the handling of the migrant workers' children that remain without any status. In 2006, the State of Israel decided to grant 562 families permanent residence in Israel, under the condition that their children were born in Israel and are at least six years old.
The organization helped 460 families file requests at the Interior Ministry and led the legal and public struggle for their recognition. Even today, the organization is fighting for the rights of some 1,200 foreign workers' children up for deportation.