Luce verde di Sharon alla deportazione di 50.000 lavoratori illegali stranieri
Da Ha'aretz

Police get green light to deport 50,000 illegal foreign workers
By Ruth Sinai

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon yesterday ordered the police to begin immediately deporting some 50,000 illegal foreign workers, including Palestinians and Jordanians. The operation is expected to take about a year.

Police Commissioner Shlomo Aharonishky will meet today with representatives of the relevant government ministries to draft an operative plan for carrying out the decision.

Sharon announced the new policy at a meeting with the ministers of finance, labor, public security and interior, and promised that the police would be given all resources necessary for the task. The idea is to set up a special force of some 150-200 policemen, which will eventually be integrated into the new "migration authority" now being set up by the Interior Ministry. That authority's goal will be to deport 100,000 illegal foreign workers by 2005, according to the recommendations of an interministerial planning committee submitted to the cabinet for approval this week.

However, this is not the first time Sharon has ordered a mass deportation: Two months ago, he asked the Public Security Ministry to deport 10,000 foreign workers a month. The police prepared a plan, but the treasury refused to cough up the necessary cash. The new operation is liable to run into similar difficulties, since it is both expensive and logistically very difficult. To date, Israel has managed to deport only a few thousand foreign workers per year. The all-time high, reached in 1999, was a mere 6,000 - and that operation was cut short due to international protests and objections from the attorney general.

Some 1,750 foreign workers have been deported so far this year. Labor Minister Shlomo Benizri blames the police, saying they refused to allocate the agreed-upon 47 policemen for the job. The police retort that they are too busy chasing down terrorists to have any spare men for chasing down foreign workers.

But the lack of policemen has not been the only problem. There are 290 foreign workers awaiting deportation in Ma'asiyahu Prison, and more in the various police lock-ups - and all of these jails are already filled beyond capacity. For the past six months, the government has been discussing the possibility of renting a hotel or hostel to provide additional holding space, but so far, the idea has not been implemented, primarily because it would be very expensive. Thus in practice, police cannot arrest any more foreign workers due to lack of any place to keep them until they can be put aboard a plane - usually a period of 12 to 14 days. This time lag stems from several factors, ranging from legal proceedings taken by the workers to fight their deportations to the fact that their passports have frequently been confiscated by their employers, requiring new ones to be obtained from the relevant embassies before they can be put on a plane.

In addition, most airlines refuse to accept more than five deportees per flight.

Therefore, most experts believe it will take at least six months to set up a suitable infrastructure for mass deportations, including more jail space and more policemen.

Sigal Rosen of the Hotline for Migrant Workers, who charged that the new plan will violate foreign workers' basic human rights, also noted that the timing of Sharon's decision is ironic - in a few days, with the cabinet's explicit approval, some 6,000 new foreign workers are due to arrive from Thailand to work in agriculture. Furthermore, one of the enterprises that will employ these workers is Sharon's Sycamore Ranch: according to the Government Employment Service, Sharon's ranch has been alloted 16 foreign workers.

Though Sharon did not participate in the cabinet vote that approved these 6,000 additional workers, his support for the idea was made clear to all present - and when the Labor and Interior Ministers, Shlomo Benizri and Eli Yishai, dragged their feet about implementing the decision, he actively pushed them to move forward.

Furthermore, Sharon's name does not appear on the published list of employers who received permits to hire foreign workers, as mandated by law. The Employment Service was unable to explain Sharon's absence from this list.