Aid Organization for Refugees and Asylum Seekers in Israel

The struggle against the Deposit Law

Demonstration against the Deposit Law, Tel Aviv, June 2017

Under the Deposit Law, which came into force in May 2017, employers of asylum seekers were required to deduct 20% of their employees’ monthly salaries and keep the money in a deposit  fund.

The accumulated funds could be refunded only once an asylum-seeker has agreed to leave the country permanently. Such deductions were specifically designed as punitive measures against asylum seekers who have been found eligible for international protection and undermined Israel’s own protection policy. In April 2020, the Israeli High Court ruled that the deduction is unlawful and ordered the state to pay back asylum seekers their hard-earned money.

The ruling was the result of a petition submitted by ASSAF alongside other human rights organizations (Kav LaOved, Physicians for Human Rights-Israel, Hotline for Refugees and Migrants, Association for Civil Rights in Israel and the African Refugee Development Center) in March 2017. Eleven Israeli women and children organizations joined the petition as friends of the court (amicus). In addition to the legal actions taken, a persistent struggle against the law was carried out by ASSAF and other civil society players at other fronts, such as at the Knesset and government ministries, as well as on the streets.

As part of the petition against the law, ASSAF reported to the High Court that it had registered a 33% increase in requests for food aid from asylum seekers in the year following the Law coming into force, including food for children and babies. ASSAF also registered an 86% increase in concerns regarding access to safe housing, with families and individuals crowding into smaller spaces. Such overcrowding had a direct impact on the level of health, privacy and personal security of all residents, including children. ASSAf continued to monitor and document the aid and psycho-social support it provided to asylum seekers affected by the Deposit Law, using the information in its advocacy and campaigning. 

In June 2018, in response to the pending petition, state authorities passed regulations that adjusted the deductions from 20% to 6% to the following groups only: 1. Women 2. Men older than 60 3. Victims of human trafficking who have been recognized as such by the state 4. Minors 5. People able to prove acute medical conditions. The regulations came into effect in November 2018. Men were still forced to pay 20% of the monthly salaries into the Departure Fund every month. 

In March 2020, the Deposit Law regained attention due to the COVID-19 crisis. Following the outbreak of the pandemic, the restrictions on movement and period of lockdown, many in Israel lost their jobs or were forced to go on unpaid leave. Asylum seekers were disproportionately affected and as many as 70% of asylum seekers lost their income. In response, community organizers and activists, as well as human rights organizations, demanded that asylum seekers would be allowed to use the money in the deposit funds to compensate for the loss of income. 

The government agreed to distribute a meager monthly allowance from those funds as a humanitarian stopgap measure. While it was dragging its feet for weeks on distributing the allowances, in perfect timing, on 23 April 2020, the Israeli High Court ruled against the legislation. Since the issuance of the ruling, aid NGOs have been assisting asylum seekers in overcoming the many bureaucratic obstacles standing before them as they try to retrieve their funds. 

Many asylum seekers, however, do not benefit from the ruling: an estimated NIS 700 million ($200 million), as of May 2019, were deducted from asylum seekers salaries but were never deposited in the funds.