Malawians looking for work in Israel despite the war

Lilongwe has signed a « labour export » agreement with Tel Aviv at a time when many Israeli farms have been deserted since the Hamas attacks at the beginning of November.

They see this as an opportunity, despite the war: in Malawi, one of the poorest countries in southern Africa, hundreds of young people are queuing up, ready to go to Israel to work, in the hope of a better life.

« It’s risky, but it’s better than staying at home and doing nothing, » a 24-year-old woman told AFP, declining to give her name. Like her, several hundred people were waiting to apply to leave on that November day, in a hotel in the capital, Lilongwe, temporarily transformed into a recruitment centre. Clutching a brown envelope containing her application, she explains that she has been unemployed since leaving school three years ago: « I pray that we will all return home safe and sound, but it’s a risk I’m taking.

Malawi, where almost three quarters of the 20 million inhabitants live below the poverty line, is running an emigration programme targeting young people, in particular to enable them to earn desperately needed foreign currency.

Since the Hamas attacks on 7 October, followed by massive Israeli bombardment of Gaza in retaliation, thousands of agricultural workers have left farms in Israel, stripping this important sector of the national economy of part of its workforce. In addition to this exodus, some 350,000 Israelis were called up for military service and Palestinian workers in Gaza had their Israeli work permits revoked after the attacks.

Our young people work in many countries such as Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Israel and many others, » Information Minister Moses Kunkuyu told AFP. Anything can happen anywhere, but the same level of security afforded to Israeli citizens will be afforded to Malawian citizens. » Israel’s ambassador to Malawi, Michael Lotem, assured the local press that this was a « win-win » agreement, arguing that the Malawians would gain money and knowledge, while Israel would partly make up for its labour shortage. Malawian workers « are not going to Gaza. They will work in Israel », stressed Mr Lotem, promising: « We will take care of them as much as we take care of the Israelis. »

David Makani

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