The “flood” of illegal African workers who have infiltrated the country over the last few years via Egypt is threatening the Jewish, democratic nature of the state, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu told the cabinet on Sunday.

Netanyahu’s comments came during a cabinet discussion on formulating a comprehensive policy regarding migration into Israel. The discussion will continue on Monday.

RELATED:
Yishai denies plans to deport 800 children of foreign workers
Rabbis: Don't rent to foreign workers
Crackdown on illegal foreign workers also targets employers
Analysis: A Srulik from Thailand
Opinion: Genocide in Darfur, persecution in Israel

The cabinet was presented with data stating that between 26,000 and 155,000 illegal economic migrants have come into the country via the long border with Egypt over the past few years. Netanyahu said this was a “concrete threat” that “most enlightened Western countries” facing a similar problem have already taken steps to combat.

The huge discrepancy in the numbers is because while there are some 26,000 documented infiltrators, the police estimate that the true number is more than five times that.

“It is inconceivable that precisely in Israel, which is without a doubt the most threatened state in the Western world, there is no governmental migration policy that protects our national and security interests,” Netanyahu said.

The prime minister said that the issue has not been dealt with for years, and that he wanted to bring legislation dealing with the matter to the Knesset in the fall. He said that in the near future, after a committee headed by Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman issues recommendations, the cabinet will make the decisions needed to deal with the issue.

This will include, he said, clamping down on employers hiring the migrant workers, arranging for the deportation of infiltrators to their countries of origin or third countries, and the construction of a barrier along the Egyptian border to make infiltration more difficult.

Netanyahu has been talking about building the barrier along the 240-kilometer border with Sinai for months, and in March the cabinet even approved it, but so far little has moved on the ground.

One government official said that deporting the infiltrators is especially difficult, because most of them come from Eritrea or Sudan. Israel has no diplomatic relations with Sudan, and therefore no way to deport the infiltrators.

Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon, who filled in at the meeting for Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who was attending a conference in Kazakhstan, said that Israel had approached third countries, such as Côte d’Ivoire, about taking in the deported workers, but it seemed unlikely they would do so. He also said that Israel has been in contact with the UN over the matter.

Statistics presented to the cabinet showed that of 3,500 infiltrators who were studied, only two were bona fide political refugees. The rest were here looking for better economic prospects.

The cabinet was told that the average salary a day laborer earns in Egypt, the country through which the Africans come into Israel, is NIS 4, while the average daily salary here is NIS 154.

Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch told the ministers there are about 3 million Africans illegally in Egypt, and that there was real concern that many of them would try to infiltrate Israel. He said a whole industry has developed in Egypt to smuggle these people into Israel.

Aharonovitch said that from the beginning of the year, around 7,000 people have been smuggled across the border with Egypt, and that about 1,200 come across each month.

The three cities with the largest number of illegal workers are Tel Aviv, Arad and Eilat, he said, with the illegals making up fully 10 percent of Eilat’s population.

The new favored destination, he said, was Ashdod.

Please LIKE our Facebook page - it makes us stronger