General News of Tuesday, 30 September 2003

Source: IsraelNN

200 Ghanaian Illegals Leave Israel

200 illegals from Ghana departed today along with family members. Some were in Israel for a number of years. They responded to immigration police, deciding to leave on their own free will and avoid arrest and deportation.

About two months ago, immigration authorities publicized that any illegal foreigner who comes forward and announces he/she is willing to leave on his/her own, he/she would be given adequate time to arrange belongings and leave in a dignified manner.

Persons lacking funds for the plane tickets are also assisted.

Not a clean sweep, By Larry Derfner

As the [Israeli] government cracks down on illegal foreign workers, the question arises as to whether deportation is the best policy

An unmarked, white Immigration Police van carrying six policemen pulled up in front of "Anthony's" apartment near the Tel Aviv Central Bus Station.

"All the non-Israelis on the street just scattered. It was like one of those whirlwinds that blow away scraps of paper in the desert," says Anthony, 37, a housecleaner from Nigeria, working here illegally on an expired tourist visa just like some 3,500 other African laborers.

Evading the Immigration Police's grasp, he walked that night to the office of Kav Leoved (Workers' Hotline), and, with six other African housecleaners, spoke to The Jerusalem Post about living in the shadows while police hunt them for deportation.

During the sweeps, hundreds or even thousands of African illegals have been deported, while many more have packed up and left the country.

"We started feeling it in January," says "George," 45, from Ghana.

"That's when the police started using scare tactics, breaking people's doors down at dawn, beating people up, including women, searching closets, pulling up mattresses."

The seven men are in their 30s or 40s, from Ghana, Nigeria, Senegal, Gambia or Zaire. Living in the foreign workers' enclave near the Central Bus Station for as long as 20 years, most have young children here. One was an air traffic controller back home, another a chemist, another an oil industry supplier, another an actor, another a textiles technician; two left home too young to learn a profession. They all send money and goods home to their extended families.

They don't always sleep in their rented apartments because they want to present police with a moving target. They won't say what sort of alternate sleeping arrangements they've made, but note that a pregnant Nigerian woman who survived a recent fatal gas explosion at a nearby Tel Aviv apartment building was sleeping there to evade police.

"She lives in an apartment two streets away, but she went to sleep with a friend while her husband was sleeping in the park," says Anthony.

Since January, "John" says his day starts much earlier than before.

"I wake up at 3 a.m. every morning now," he says, "because I don't want anybody to break down my door. If I hear the police coming, I'll open the door and let them in."

He used to walk leisurely to the bus stop that took him to the house he was cleaning for the day.

"But now I time it so that I'm on the street for as short a time as possible, so I get to the bus stop just as the bus arrives. And all the way there I'm looking every which way," he says. "I'm easy for the police to spot because I'm black."

The men no longer take the public transport vans, or sheruts, which are ubiquitous around the Central Bus Station, because police raided them so often.

"The only time we take the sheruts is on Friday night and Saturday, when the police are home enjoying Shabbat," says John.

The buses, too, are risky, having also been raided, but the men have no other way to get to and from work.

They've lost a lot of clients because Immigration Police have gotten serious about fining employers of illegals NIS 10,000. Many of those who get deported or decide to leave in a hurry get stiffed by their landlords, who refuse to return their security deposits and advance rent on their apartments, the men say.

ASIDE FROM work, they try to limit their socializing to friends who live close by.

"But to go out and have a beer? Those days are over," says "Victor." Most of the Africans are Christians, and attendance is down at the churches they attend. "Fifteen people at my church have been deported," says "Thomas."

Since 17 illegal Philippine workers were arrested coming out of their Tel Aviv church in the spring, foreign workers don't even regard the churches as sanctuaries from police.

The police play very rough, the men say. Asked about the stories of illegals jumping out of their windows to avoid arrest, John says, "We hear they're being pushed." They mention the news story of a Chinese worker who was stabbed in the lung with a pen by one of the policemen arresting him.

Of the seven men, only Thomas has been raided at home. It happened at the beginning of the year: "They came at about 3:30 in the morning; six of them came into my room. I was holding my daughter, who was a month old at the time, and two of the police were holding my arms back and another one was tickling me so I would let go of her so they could arrest me.

"Do you know how dangerous it is to tickle me when I'm holding a month-old baby?" he exclaims. "We were fighting over the baby; my wife was shouting, hysterical, kicking and biting, and the police saw the baby's eyes had rolled back, so they gave up. They told me to give the baby some water, and they went next door and arrested two Nigerians."

"Paul" has brought his three-year-old daughter to the meeting with him because she gets frightened when he leaves the apartment alone.

"Do you know what an effect this is having on our children?" he says. "They know what's going on. They talk about it all the time. My daughter tells me about her friends in kindergarten who aren't there anymore because their parents have been arrested. She tells me, 'Daddy, I'm not going to see Abigail again, the police took her daddy away.'"

The men say Israelis on the street have become more suspicious and hostile to them since the raids began.

"The atmosphere changed. Now people seem to feel that we're stealing something from them. The radio and newspapers kept equating unemployment with foreign workers, telling Israelis that once the foreign workers are gone, all their problems would be solved," notes John.

Finance Minister Binyamin Netanyahu recently called foreign workers in Israel a "cancer."

A few months ago Victor was arguing with a butcher at Carmel Market, complaining about the quality of meat he'd been sold.

"The boss came over with a knife in his hand, and he yelled at me, 'Get the hell out of here, kushie (nigger), go back to Africa or I'll show what this knife feels like.'"

Paul says he was recently on the bus when an Israeli man went up to a Philippine woman in a seat and demanded that she vacate it.

"He told her, 'You're not an Israeli, you have no right sit in that seat.' And the woman got up.'"

Nobody, not the foreign workers nor the Israelis on the bus, protested, he says.

"What could I do?" he asks. "If I started making noise, I might have gotten arrested and deported."