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Israel is hiring civilian “immigration inspectors” to crack down on “illegal aliens and their employers,” marking a turning point in the Middle Eastern nation’s relationship with migrants and refugees.
In an advertisement this month, the Population and Immigration Authority said it would pay up to 30,000 Israeli shekels ($8,845) for civilians to carry out an “enterprise of national importance.” That included undertaking “enforcement tasks” against migrants that involved detecting, investigating, and arresting them. Candidates are expected to start in March 2018, a month before the country starts its designated “voluntary” process to return migrants to their country of origin or a third one.
The move comes a few weeks after Israel said it would help purchase tickets, obtain travel documents, and give $3,500 to African illegal migrants to leave—threatening them with arrest if they are caught after the end of March.
The United Nations refugee agency estimates that there are 27,000 Eritreans and 7,700 Sudanese in Israel, with the vast majority of them saying they fled war, persecution, and conscription. However, Israeli officials have called them “infiltrators” and a “cancer” who are in search of economic opportunities, and who constitute a threat to Israel’s social fabric and Jewish identity. As such, only 10 Eritreans and one Sudanese have been recognized as refugees in the country since 2009, according to UNHCR. Another 200 Sudanese from Darfur have also been granted humanitarian status.
The government’s plan to return the refugees has drawn criticism from human rights advocates both in and outside the country. Nearly 500 academics and 35 prominent Israeli writers have called on prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu not to deport the asylum seekers, saying the country has “no refugee problem and has no economic difficulty taking them in, settling them and directing them to jobs.” Hundreds of rabbis have also promised to hide refugees, campaigning under the name of Anne Frank, the Holocaust victim who hid in an attic apartment in Amsterdam with her family before she was captured and killed.
The UN has also warned that people who were returned could risk their lives by taking dangerous onward journeys to Europe. Israel was accused of making deals with African countries including Rwanda and Uganda as a place to deport the refugees—but both countries recently denied there was any deal. Rwanda’s government said that its policy towards Africans “wherever they may originate from” was to have “open doors.”