Date: Tuesday, 22 May 2018
Asylum seekers are being given new visa numbers unannounced, causing banks to refuse them access to their account. As a result, many can't pay rent or withdraw money
“For most asylum seekers, their visa and their release subject to restrictions is their only means of identification, if they have no passport or other documents. The Population and Immigration Authority can easily add the old identity number on lines meant for remarks, and we are calling on the authority to do so immediately,” the Hotline for Refugees and Migrants said.
It is unclear why the Population Authority is changing the identity numbers of some asylum seekers but not others when they renew their visas — or what purpose the change serves. For its part, the Population Authority responded: “The issue has been brought to the attention of the authority and it is an issue involving a limited number of cases. As far as the authority is concerned, there is no doubt this is the same person, however we are working to resolve the matter.” The Bank of Israel, Israel’s central bank, which oversees the banking sector, did not respond for this report.
“They changed my visa number and I didn’t notice that the number on the new visa was different. Now I can’t deposit or withdraw money from my account,” B. said. “I went back to the Population Authority and told them I have a problem with the bank because of the change in the visa number, but they told me that they can’t do anything about it. Now I need to borrow money from my friends. My apartment mates are paying my rent because of this. It’s very difficult,” he added.
Hagos, another Eritrean asylum seeker, who came to Israel in 2011, has renewed his visa every few months. In March, when he went to the Population and Immigration Authority’s offices in the Tel Aviv suburb of Bnei Brak, he received a visa with a different number. He said he has encountered the same problem as a result.
“I’ve already been in Israel for six years. I was in Saharonim [prison] and Holot [detention center]. When I got out of Holot, I received a new visa with a new number. I live with friends in Tel Aviv, although my visa says that’s forbidden, because there’s no other place for me to go. At the bank, they didn’t believe that this was my account and said the number was not the same. I told them over and over that this is the account, but they wouldn’t allow me to withdraw money.I don’t have money now for anything, I don’t know how I’m going to pay the rent or buy food. I survive day to day,” he recounted.
Since December, Yonit Naftali Kav El, the founder and head of a group of volunteers, has been accompanying asylum seekers every day in the long lines at the Population Authority offices in Bnei Brak. Her group is finding an ever-growing number of changes in the visas that are issued.
“Since we’ve accompanied the line, every week or two we see a new edict, something small or big that disrupts their lives and makes them more difficult. The government’s policy is to encourage [the asylum seekers] to leave the country, and the most efficient way to do this is not to let asylum seekers live here on the most basic level.” Kav El alleged.
A new law requiring asylum seekers to deposit 20 percent of their salaries into a special fund that is recoverable only when they leave the country is one example of this, and it also dissuades employers from hiring them, she said. “Another way is through the very demand that they renew their visas every month or two. Every asylum seeker in Israel has to come to Bnei Brak, because except for Eilat, this is the only office that deals with them. [They have] to stand in line for hours, sometimes from the night before, and of course lose a day of work,” she said. “Now there’s this story of the visa number,” she added. “Here’s another kind of burden, another means of making their lives more difficult, with the thought that this will push them out of here.”