Thanks to a petition from several NIF grantees, Israel’s Supreme Court has struck down the 2017 Deposit Law, which confiscated 20% of every paycheck earned by the 36,000 asylum seekers in Israel.
Under the draconian law, intended to incentivize leaving the country, this money was held by the government until asylum seekers did so.
The court ruled that the law is unconstitutional and gave the government 30 days to return the money to the asylum seekers, who need this money to provide for themselves and their families during the COVID-19 crisis.
The petition was by seven asylum seekers from Eritrea and Sudan, along with several human rights organizations: Kav LaOved – Worker’s Hotline, Tel Aviv University’s Refugee Rights Clinic, ASSAF – Aid Organization for Refugees and Asylum Seekers, the Hotline for Refugees and Migrants, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), the African Refugee Development Center (ARDC), and Physicians for Human Rights Israel (PHRI).
The law was originally enacted in 2016 to incentivize people seeking asylum in Israel (who are fleeing conflict in Eritrea and Sudan) to leave the country, as the government cannot deport them legally.
In her ruling Supreme Court President Esther Hayut wrote, “The use of economic incentives is a legitimate tactic in implementing migration policy. But the means chosen in this case – denying workers a fifth of their salary until leaving Israel – clearly, tangibly and substantially undermines the infiltrating worker’s property rights, while the benefit stemming from it is limited.”
In a joint statement, NIF grantees said that the Deposit Law was, “born in sin in order to expel people who sought refuge from persecution and allowed for the committing of daily theft. This ruling gives hope and we are happy for all asylum seekers, who will receive their money back, but even more, the recognition that they have been wronged.”
The return of the money will be timely because many of the asylum seekers have lost their jobs due to the COVID-19 pandemic and have no income.