(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Interior Minister Arye Deri intends to ramp up efforts to encourage illegal African migrants to self-deport back to the African continent, and would consider building a facility to jail them if such efforts fail, the minister said on Wednesday.
His comments came during a meeting of the Knesset Interior and Environment Committee held to examine his ministry’s operations and goals.
In January, government officials said that Israel has repatriated some 22,000 illegal African migrants over the last number of years, either to their home countries or third countries, through a combination of positive incentives like one-time stipends and negative incentives like the Holot detention facility in the Negev.
The Population, Immigration and Borders Authority said in figures presented by Deri on Wednesday that there are some 43,000 African migrants in Israel, most of them from Eritrea and Sudan.
During the meeting, Deri (Shas) also presented a plan to invest NIS 350 million in 16 Arab local councils in the coming years, which will be earmarked for improving local governance.
He was approached by a number of Arab MKs who asked for a freeze on the demolition of any houses in the Arab sector that do not have legal building permits. Deri told them that he does not have the authority to order such a measure.
He said during the meeting that “there are 50,000 illegally built houses in the Arab sector, but in practice only very few are destroyed.”
MK Taleb Abu Arar (Joint List) asked Deri: “A thousand houses in the Negev in one year is not much?” The ministry sent out a statement after the meeting saying that, contrary to reports, no deal had been reached between Deri and Arab MKs to stop home demolitions in the Arab sector.
Jafar Farah, director of the NGO Mossawa Center – The Advocacy Center for Arab Citizens in Israel, told The Jerusalem Post that Deri had a good meeting on Tuesday with Arab mayors in Nazareth and that he understood the problems facing their localities.
Deri expressed sympathy to the Arab mayors and municipality heads on the problem of housing and planning in the sector, but said he had no authority since the issue falls under the Finance and Construction ministries, said Farah.
“We call on the Israel government to end the lack of planning and housing and expect Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon and Construction Minister Yoav Galant to finish planning Arab villages in the coming year,” he said.
In addition, “we call for the end of house demolitions and for the recognition of unrecognized villages,” he added.
“They have the authority and the budget, and there is no reason why they should delay,” argued Farah.