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Photo by: Yonathan Weitzman/Reuters
PM: We have effectively stopped flow of Africans
By BEN HARTMAN AND YONAH JEREMY BOB
05/11/2012
Netanyahu says gov't "must work on repatriating infiltrators in Israel"; UN rep.: If Israel could deport them, it would have.
 
Israel has blocked the flow of illegal migrants and must now focus on deporting illegal migrants already in the country, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said on Sunday.

“October’s data shows that only 54 infiltrators crossed the border last month and they were all – without exception – placed in detention.

This means that none of them reached Israel’s cities,” Netanyahu told the weekly cabinet meeting, citing figures from the Interior Ministry’s Population, Immigration and Borders Authority.

“I remind you that only six months ago, over 1,000 infiltrators were entering every month and this number was increasing. On the basis of these figures, one may explicitly say that we have blocked infiltration and now we must focus – and we are doing so – on repatriating the infiltrators who are already in Israel,” the prime minister said.

In mid-October, ahead of a Knesset vote to dissolve Knesset ahead of early elections in January, Netanyahu boasted of his work to stop the influx of migrants, in particular the construction of the Egypt border fence as well as a string of recent anti-migrant legislation.

In November 2011, the Population, Immigration and Borders Authority sent out a press release announcing that in the first week of the month, around 950 African migrants illegally entered the country. Over the past several months, as the Sinai border fence has neared completion, the government has released figures showing a marked decrease in the number of migrants crossing the southern border illegally. The reduced numbers have also come as Sinai has continued its descent into lawlessness and the Egyptian military has stepped up its anti-terror raids in the peninsula.

The prime minister’s comments came shortly before Interior Minister Eli Yishai (Shas), one of the most vocal opponents of the African migrant community, said the state could start working to close businesses operated by illegal migrants.

“The state can begin working against infiltrators who are business owners. The infiltrators problem is an issue that endangers the future, identity and uniqueness of the State of Israel,” Yishai said, adding that the state must pursue these efforts until the businesses close.

He also called on the Foreign Ministry and the Justice Ministry to draft a ruling that will allow the government to deport Sudanese and Eritrean migrants, who make up the majority of the more than 60,000 African migrants in the country.

Israel does not currently deport Sudanese or Eritreans to their countries, as they could face persecution upon their return.

During his time as interior minister, Yishai has led a campaign against foreign workers and illegal African migrants, and last week a Shas official close to Yishai said he was counting on the migrant issue to help Shas attract Likud voters displeased with Netanyahu’s handling of the issue. He also said that Yishai and Shas candidates list leader Arye Deri did not see eye-to-eye on the issue.

Yishai’s statement on Sunday came after the Justice Ministry said that in recent cabinet meetings there was a recognition that the laws regarding closing businesses that were operating without a license were not being enforced against migrants as they had been enforced against the general population.

To avoid the appearance of discrimination, it was decided that an additional effort would be put forward to enforce the law and close businesses of migrants the same as among the general population.

The statement did not indicate the statistical basis of the ministry’s findings on the issue.

Orit Marom of ASSAF, the Aid Organization for Refugees and Asylum Seekers in Israel, said on Sunday that one reason for the drop in the number of migrants entering Israel “is the fact that Israel is deporting refugees who are arriving at the [Egypt border] fence, despite the international agreements that Israel has signed on to, which require the country to give entry to those who reach their borders facing a threat to their life.”

Marom said that instead of focusing on “nonexistent accomplishments,” the government “should answer the needs of the migrants in Israel who lack the most basic rights, as well as of the Israeli population who live among them. The lack of [refugee] status for asylumseekers causes a great deal of suffering not only for them but also for the Israelis who live amongst them, who include some of the weakest populations in Israel.”
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