“The hardest part of this law is that there is no mercy even for the most vulnerable members of the community, such as single mothers, survivors of human trafficking and torture and mentally and physically disabled individuals. These members of our community are struggling just to make ends meet. The additional deductions will make this impossible.” (Teklit Michael, an Eritrean Christian refugee in Israel, writing in a Times of Israel blog today 14 June 2017)
Last weekend in Israel, thousands of Eritrean, Sudanese and Israeli people mounted a demonstration against the new “Deposit Law” or “Paycheque Law”. The law, which came into force on 1 May, apparently aims to create such hardship amongst African asylum-seekers that they are forced out of the country.
The new and greatly feared law, officially entitled the Law for Preventing Infiltrators and Ensuring their Departure, deducts 20% from the earnings of every African asylum-seeker. This deduction is in addition to normal taxes. The law also requires their employers to make a monthly payment equivalent to 16% of the person’s salary. This law will seriously impact the 40,000 Eritreans – mainly Christians – who fled to Israel hoping to find freedom and security in a country where they could worship the Lord without fear.
The funds taken from employee and employer will be deposited by the Israeli government in a bank account and only released to the individual asylum-seeker when he or she agrees to leave the country permanently. Of course, none will return to the brutal communist regime of Eritrea, which mercilessly hounds Christians of certain denominations, for example, imprisoning them for years in atrocious conditions just for meeting together to pray. That leaves only the “voluntary” return programme to Uganda or Rwanda; Eritreans who have tried this have often ended up in the hands of human traffickers and some have been killed by Islamic State militants.
As a direct result of this new law, thousands of vulnerable asylum-seekers – already struggling to survive – will be plunged further into poverty. Employers will be loath to hire them because of the 16% levy, while those who manage to retain their jobs will lose a further 20% of their meagre income.
Generosity from Israeli citizens, but it is not enough
Members of the Israeli public have shown tremendous warmth and compassion to the Eritrean Christian refugees. Teklit Michael affirms, “They opened their doors to us and have given us shelter. They gave us water to drink from their cup. Perhaps those who have themselves been marginalized have a greater level of compassion and empathy for those who suffer now. They have been a comfort to us and have become our closest friends.”
Israelis generously donate food and other items to an Eritrean Christian agency for distribution to the neediest Eritreans - mainly mothers with small children. But, as the effects of the new law begin to bite, these donations will not be sufficient. The agency desperately needs funds to buy more items for distribution, such as pasta, rice, cooking oil, baby formula milk, and diapers.
Many Israelis are deeply unhappy with the stance of their government regarding the Eritrean asylum-seekers and a number of Israeli non-government organisations are assisting them, as well as engaging with the government to try to persuade them to change their policies.
Further harassment of men at Holot
Since Barnabas Aid and various Israeli media highlighted the atrocious conditions of the Holot Detention Centre earlier this year, additional restrictions have been placed on the three thousand Eritrean men held there along with a smaller number of Sudanese men. Their mobile phones have been blocked so they cannot contact family and friends. And the many who were studying can no longer access the educational materials they used to receive via their mobile wifi hubs.
Please help persecuted Eritrean Christians
While the majority of the Eritrean population are Muslims, an estimated 95% of the Eritreans who have fled to Israel are Christians – an indication of the particular pressures and persecution the Christians face in their homeland.
Please give to help Eritrean Christian mothers and children. Just $22.50 could provide pasta, pasta sauce, rice and cooking oil for a mother and her children for a month. Your donations will be channelled 100% to the Eritrean Christian agency in Israel.
If you would like to make a gift, please direct your donation to Eritrean Christian Refugees 12-954
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