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Diasporian News Fri, 2 Jan 2004

Foreign workers get another chance to leave `voluntarily'

The Israeli Immigration Police (IP) is launching another campaign allowing foreign workers and their families to leave Israel "voluntarily" instead of risking deportation. Notwithstanding the deportation policy and ban on the entry of foreign workers, at least 25,000 new workers arrived with permits in 2003, while an unknown number arrived illegally.

In the first such operation held in September and October, some 1,000 adults and children, mostly from Ghana, left Israel in two airplanes chartered by the police. Another 300 who had registered did not show up.

From next week until the end of the month, foreign workers will be able to register at IP stations and receive a document temporarily protecting them from arrest. The families will be given until the end of March to prepare for departure.

Immigration Police Commander Major General Bertie Ohayon said yesterday that while the police are not arresting entire families, they have arrested and deported heads of families to pressure their wives and children to follow.

Sigal Rosen of the foreign workers aid center said the police have deported men whose wives were about to give birth, leaving them and their children in Israel with no means of support. "I hope this time they let families register and extend their stay here if the woman is pregnant and cannot leave by the end of March," Rosen said.

Rosen also took offense with the term "voluntary departure." "Calling it that is contemptible when it refers to leaving under threat of having their children arrested."

Since the Immigration Police was set up on September 1, 2002, some 80,000 foreign workers have left Israel, 25,000 by expulsion orders. Ohayon estimated that up to 120,000 illegal workers remain. Next year's goal is to remove 50,000 so that within three years there will be no more illegal workers.

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However, since the IP was formed, and despite the ban on bringing in foreign workers, at least 25,000 of people have entered Israel with work permits - many of whom will become illegal aliens as soon as they leave their initial employers - while an unknown number have entered illegally.

Source: Haaretz