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Stemming the tide of illegal infiltration
By AMNON BEN-AMI
19/12/2013
It is imperative that we adopt and enforce all the measures that the government of Israel has enacted to deal with the problem if we wish to significantly reduce time infiltrators stay in Israel.
 
On Wednesday, The Jerusalem Post published an op-ed by Meretz MK Michal Rozin, who wrote about so-called “lies” that the government of Israel is propagating to the public as it seeks to deal with the problem of illegal infiltrators.

I would like to present the facts of the matter: Since 2006, infiltration to Israel via the border with Egypt has turned from a minor phenomenon into a mass influx at the height of which thousands of infiltrators were entering the country every month.

At present, there are more than 53,000 infiltrators in Israel. Seeing this trend and recognizing the social, economic and security implications as well as the danger that infiltration would continue to increase, the Population and Immigration Authority has acted aggressively to put this issue on the government’s agenda.

The government’s first priority was to stem the tide of illegal infiltration into Israel. To do this, it took a number of important decisions in recent years: building a barrier along the Egyptian border, taking operative steps on the diplomatic front to enable the deportation of infiltrators, constructing a detention facility, enforcing the law against those employing infiltrators and measures to encourage voluntary return of infiltrators to their countries of origin.

During the latter half of 2012, the influx of infiltrators into Israel declined significantly.

This was the result of progress in building the border barrier and implementation of the amendment to the Prevention of Infiltration Law (1954) in June 2012. During the course of 2012, 10,440 illegal infiltrators entered Israel; during the course of 2013, only 43 entered the country.

On December 10, 2013, the Knesset passed by a large majority an amendment to the Prevention of Infiltration Law. The legislation passed after a long preparatory process that was a combined effort of the government, the Knesset and the parliament’s Interior Committee.

Two days later, a detention center opened for infiltrators whom the government faced difficulties in deporting.

The Open Detention Center lives up to its name. The facility is not a prison. Open detention centers of this kind are the most widespread solution to illegal infiltration in many countries in the world. Countries such as Italy, Austria, the Netherlands, Belgium, Sweden and Switzerland operate similar detention centers.

The Open Detention Center, known as Holot, offers adequate living conditions, including health and welfare services.

The detainees are allowed to leave the facility during most hours of the day, but must stay overnight between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. The facility provides more than adequate conditions for detainees.

I would like to stress that the purpose of the facility is not to allow infiltrators to work. Parallel to the opening of the center, Interior Minister Gidon Sa’ar instructed the Population and Immigration Authority to continue to offer all illegal infiltrators in Israel, and particularly those at the facility, the opportunity to voluntarily repatriate to their own countries.

So far this year, more than 1,700 illegal infiltrators from Sudan and Eritrea have left Israel of their own accord. Sa’ar has authorized a rise in the grant given to those accepting voluntary repatriation to $3,500.

Moreover, enforcement against employers employing detainees at the facility is being tightened and will include, inter alia, fines and litigation.

It’s important to note that, alongside the fact that the tide of illegal infiltrators has been stopped, we must continue with determination to carry out all the steps I have noted above to solve the huge problem of illegal infiltrators in Israel.

It is imperative that we adopt and enforce all the measures that the government of Israel has enacted to deal with the problem if we wish to significantly reduce time infiltrators stay in Israel.

The writer is director-general of the Population and Immigration Authority.
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