The Netivot Municipality is seeking to convert old Mekorot company facilities into shelters for migrant workers. As part of preparations for the possibility of a strike in Iran, incoming Home Front Defense Minister Avi Dichter has been presented with the initiative, Ynet learned.
"In times of emergency, migrant workers come into the big city (Netivot) and enter structures," explained Mayor Yehiel Zohar. "We thought about providing them with an organized shelter. In times of emergency most agriculture workers are in Netivot. They come to the industrial zone or to abandoned buildings."
In a meeting with Dichter and Home Front Command officers, Zohar said that in times of emergency migrants may encounter "social difficulties" in staying in shelters alongside Israeli families.
As mayor of Netivot, he offered to install lighting fixtures and clean the Mekorot facilities in order to convert them into shelters. "I am very careful not to talk about separation," he said. "It's not about that, it's about protecting these people, not that all of my residents have where to stay…but those who don't, have fortified spaces and access public shelters."
According to Zohar, one of the facilities is located a kilometer from Netivot and the other - 10 km from the city - both outside his jurisdiction. "It's a space with many migrant workers, especially in the fields of construction and agriculture.
"With some renovation we can find a good and safe place for these people." The Home Front Command is reviewing the mayor's plan.
The past year has seen many African migrants settling in Israel's southern towns such as Netivot. If converted into the shelters, the structures could house hundreds at a time.
Despite Zohar's claims, if implemented, the plan would create de facto segregation between Israelis and migrants. No such policy has been adopted in the Eshkol Regional Council, for example, which is much nearer the Gaza Strip.
Portable shelters have been placed in areas with concentrations of migrant workers and Israeli farmers. Staff residential areas contain shelters.
"The farmers and migrant workers are part of us. We guard them more than we do ourselves," said Eshkol Council head Haim Yalin. Nevertheless, he welcomed the plan to convert the Mekorot facilities.
Minister Dichter also expressed his support, saying "any local authority's intervention will receive the backing of the Home Front Defense Ministry. Handling migrant workers in times of emergency is one of the ministry's challenges."
Mekorot could not be reached for a comment.
Yoav Zitun contributed to this report
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