Interior Minister Eli Yishai announced Thursday that he would cancel the “Gedera-Hadera” policy, which limited African refugees in Israel to living in the south or north. The move is meant to ease life in southern and northern Israel, where an influx of refugees has lead to an increase in crime and a burden on already overtaxed police and social services.
The “Gedera-Hadera” policy was instituted by the previous government, led by then-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, in response to a sharp increase in the number of refuge-seekers entering Israel from Egypt. Those claiming refugee status were asked to sign documents promising that they would not live or work in central Israel, defined as the area north of Gedera and south of Hadera.
The government argued that the plan would allow refugees to find employment and housing, and would prevent crowding among refugee communities in the Tel Aviv area.
However, refugees widely opposed the plan, arguing that unskilled labor is more easily found in the central district. In addition, they said the large concentrations of refugees and foreign workers in central Israel allowed for a sense of community, and for educational opportunities for refugee children.
Residents of southern cities such as Eilat and Arad have also expressed opposition to the policy. The policy has led to a dramatic increase in crime and in competition for unskilled positions in both cities, leaving locals frustrated and in many cases, afraid for their safety.
The Israel branch of Amnesty International thanked Yishai for the decision. Israel has a “historic, moral, and legal obligation” to assist refugees, the group said.
Residents of the south were grateful as well. "I am relieved to hear this news, as a resident of Arad," one resident told Israel National News. "Maybe we won't have to leave, after all."
Peres: Let Illegal Entrants' Children Stay
President Shimon Peres wrote to Yishai on Thursday to protest another government policy – that of expelling the children of illegal foreign workers along with their families. Several hundred children who were born in Israel to illegal entrants are expected to be forced to leave the country in coming weeks, as police continue to enforce immigration policy in a massive operation termed “Oz.”
Peres recalled a recent visit to a Tel Aviv school that teaches many children of foreign workers, including those whose parents are in the country illegally. “I felt they had an innate Israeliness, a love of Israel and desire to live here,” he said of the children.
"We cannot remain apathetic to the fate of these children and teenagers,” he wrote.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu met together with Yishai and Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz on Thursday to discuss the matter of illegal foreign workers with children. The three decided that illegal workers with minor children would be allowed to remain in Israel for the next three months while the government creates a clear policy to deal with such families.