In an apparent effort to deprive Shas of an election issue, the Prime Minister’s
Office on Monday released figures showing the numbers of African migrants
infiltrating Israel dropped from 2,031 in May, to 29 so far this
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu also convened a meeting Monday
to discuss “progress in the process of repatriating illegal work infiltrators to
their countries of origin.”
According to a statement put out by the Prime
Minister’s Office, Netanyahu envoy Hagai Hadas – charged with responsibility for
negotiations with African countries – reviewed the progress that has been made
on the issue. No details were provided regarding progress.
formerly worked for the Mossad, was Netanyahu’s chief negotiator for two years
and worked to free Gilad Schalit from Hamas captivity.
Netanyahu’s Likud party is bitterly fighting for votes, has over the last year
made the illegal migrants a major issue, with Interior Minister and Shas
political leader Eli Yishai leading the campaign to halt the flow of migrants
into the country and send those already here back home.
official downplayed Monday’s meeting on the subject and the likelihood of
repatriating most of the migrants. Of the approximately 60,000 migrants, the
vast majority – or about 50,000 – is believed to be from Eritrea and Sudan,
where repatriation is out of the question.
The Eritreans, believed to
number 35,000 people, cannot be sent back because of the human rights situation
in that country and the determination by several UN agencies that sending people
back there would put their lives in jeopardy.
The Sudanese refugees,
believed to number some 15,000, cannot be repatriated because their deportation
would have to be coordinated with Khartoum, an impossibility since Sudan is an
enemy state with whom Israel has no diplomatic relations.
infiltrators have been repatriated to South Sudan, this makes up but a tiny
amount of the total amount of migrants illegally in the country.
government official also scoffed at the idea of deporting the migrants to other
countries, saying there are no countries in Africa or around the world that are
standing with their doors open ready to receive them.
Netanyahu said at the start of the meeting that just as Israel succeeded in
blocking the entry of “hundreds of thousands” of migrants through the
construction of the fence along the border with Sinai, “now we are moving on to
the second stage, that of repatriating the infiltrators who are already
The prime minister said Hadas was holding contacts with various
African governments with the goal of “repatriating tens of thousands of
Just as keeping the migrants from entering the country was
possible, Netanyahu noted, “so too is repatriation possible, and we will achieve
Meanwhile, Sigal Rozen, public policy coordinator at the
Hotline for Migrant Workers, concurred with the official. She said she does not
think the move will happen, and that is mostly just a political statement made
by Netanyahu ahead of the January elections.
“We don’t think it will
happen because we know it’s impossible, and we also don’t think he’ll stoop that
low – to deport thousands of refugees back to the countries they fled,” she
Rozen also took note of the timing of the message, which came on
Christmas Eve, saying that most of the Eritreans in Israel, who make up the
majority of the more than 60,000 African migrants in Israel, are
Rozen added, “He’s always saying stuff like this, this is not
the first time. We’ll have to see if it’s something more serious or just an
attempt to win votes from the far-right.”
Rozen’s statement was supported
by far-right MK Michael Ben-Ari (Strong Israel), who quite possibly has been the
government’s most vocal antimigrant activist in recent years.
should hold the elections every four months so that then Netanyahu will deal
with the ‘infiltrators’ issue,” he said.