Foreign Minister Considers Plan for Asylum Seekers to Leave Israel in Return for Professional Training

12.06.23, Bar Peleg, Haaretz

Asylum Seeker Community

Israeli government policy

The Israeli Foreign Ministry is considering a new plan that would provide professional training courses to Sudanese and Eritrean asylum seekers in exchange for their agreement to leave the country willingly.

The training, which will take place in Israel, will be for high demand professions in countries in need of foreign workers such as Canada. In return, asylum seekers would leave Israel and be granted legal residency in other countries once they completed the training.
The framework was proposed by Likud lawmaker and chairman of the Knesset special committee on foreign workers Eliyahu Revivo, and the plan is now being examined by the Foreign Ministry, which is awaiting response from Canada and other countries on the plan. Foreign Minister Eli Cohen said at a meeting of the committee on Monday that he “thinks it’s an amazing” idea and plans on giving it priority, and even allocating Foreign Ministry funds to promote professional training for the asylum seekers.
One of the professions mentioned in the committee session was nursing, a field where Israel has a major shortage of workers. The possibility of training asylum seekers to work in nursing in Israel did not come up at the committee meeting.
Israel will survey the needs of the job market in the target countries and examine their willingness to grant residency to asylum seekers in return for their working in professions in high demand there, according to Revivo’s proposal. At the same time, courses intended just for asylum seekers will be held in the language of the country accepting them. The training will be provided only to those who are willing to leave Israel voluntarily. “We know that Canada is looking desperately for such people in the nursing field,” said Revivo.
The plan could help “to clean the streets of illegal infiltrators who are here under the protection of the Supreme Court,” and would allow Israel to become a country that “exports work as part of a bilateral agreement and not just imports,” Revivo told the committee.
The discussion in the committee was on the subject of importing workers specializing in nursing from Morocco and India, because of the large shortage of workers in the field in Israel – and Cohen presented the Foreign Ministry’s actions on the matter.

About 29,000 asylum seekers now live in Israel, most of them without legal residency, health insurance or social benefits. Many of them suffer from psychological distress, poverty, hunger and violence, said welfare authorities. Every year, about 2,000 of them leave Israel for Canada for and other Western countries. Most of them leave without Israel being involved in the move, but instead they receive help from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees or through other channels provided by the Canadian government.In April 2018, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced Israel had reached an agreement with the UN refugee agency, in which Israel would stop the forced deportation to Africa from Israel of asylum seekers from Eritrea and Sudan, resettle 16,000 of them in Israel and the same number would settle in Western countries, including Canada, Germany and Italy.

Israel agreed to accept at least 16,000 of these asylum seekers as temporary residents, and was supposed to provide them with professional training for jobs needed here. But after announcing the agreement with the UN, Netanyahu reversed his decision as the result of pressure from his coalition partners and harsh criticism of the plan from the right.

The agreement that was canceled was reached after the efforts to reach an agreement with Rwanda to accept the asylum seekers fell through. Since the cancellation of the agreement with the UN, which was intended to provide a permanent solution for the asylum seekers, Israel has yet to formulate an official position concerning foreigners living here.

Shira Abbo, the spokeswoman of the Hotline for Refugees and Migrants, said she was pleased for every asylum seeker who found their way to a democratic country that respects their rights and grants them the legal residency they deserve. But Abbo said that asylum seekers moving to Canada does not “cover the crimes of the Israeli refugee system, which has avoided decisions on justified requests, and leaves most citizens of Eritrea and Sudan without a decision and without [residency] status that they deserve here in Israel too.”

“Israel’s obligation to the UN refugee convention and the basic respect for life and freedom of every person, whoever they are, still stands, and no deal or plan will erase that,” said Abbo.

The Israeli Immigration Policy Center said the proposed “plan for training infiltrators for work in demand in countries desperate for absorbing immigrants and workers will be a victory for all the parties: For Israel, the receiving countries and more than that, also for the infiltrators themselves.” The Immigration Policy Center, which opposes granting legal residency status to migrants who entered Israel illegally from Sudan and Eritrea in Israel, has promoted a similar plan in the past.

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