Israel to Expel Illegal Laborers

02.Jan.02,  first published by Associated Press: read the original article here.

JERUSALEM (AP) - Israel has begun a drive to expel tens of thousands of illegal foreign workers as unemployment has climbed above 9 percent, a Labor Ministry official said Wednesday.

About 250,000 foreign workers are in Israel, with many coming from the Philippines, Thailand, China, Africa and Eastern Europe and living in cramped apartments in Tel Aviv.

Many have replaced Arab labor lost when Israeli-Palestinian fighting broke out in September 2000 and Israel barred Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip (news - web sites) from commuting to work in Israel each day.

About 60 percent of the foreign workers are here illegally, according to the ministry.

Beginning this week, employers who hire illegal workers could be fined and jailed, said Efraim Cohen, head of the ministry's foreign workers division.

Also, teams of police and social workers have begun scouring job sites and arresting workers without proper permits.

Illegal workers are being held in prisons for several days and will be flown back to their countries of origin, Cohen said.

The foreigners often take jobs as live-in caretakers for the elderly and the ill and also work at construction sites and in agriculture. Others work at apartment buildings as cleaners or gardeners.

Advocates of workers' rights say employers have exploited many of the illegal laborers, paying them below average wages and violating contracts.

The expulsions are intended to help get jobless Israelis back to work.

``We are in a very serious situation. Employers prefer foreign workers because they can pay them less,'' Cohen said. ``When there is work that's fine, but now there isn't (work).''

The Israeli Cabinet last week proposed a 3 percent cut in this year's budget, amounting to $1.42 billion.

Israel's economy had been propelled in recent years by a blooming high-tech industry but has been hit by a worldwide downturn and 15 months of Mideast violence.

Still, experts argue that out-of-work Israelis will not rush to fill jobs now held by foreign laborers.

``A lot of the people who are unemployed now are former high-tech workers. They are not going to be home-care workers or go into building or agricultural trades,'' said Eliezer Jaffe, a professor of social work at Jerusalem's Hebrew University.