The cabinet on Sunday approved plans to build a detention center for illegal
migrants near Ketziot, and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu took journalists to
the Egyptian border to see the work on a new barrier there and to illustrate the
scope of the illegal migration.
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According to figures presented to
Netanyahu at a point overlooking the work along the border, about 60 kilometers
north of Eilat, around 1,000 illegal immigrants a month – or more than 12,000 a
year – are currently crossing from Egypt into Israel.
One IDF official
noted that this number was nearly equal to the number of immigrants entering the
country, a number that stood at some 16,200 in 2009.
Of the illegal
migrants, some 70 percent are from Eritrea, 20% from Sudan and 10% from a number
of other African countries such as Ivory Coast and Chad, or other countries such
as China, Turkey or Ukraine, Netanyahu was told.
On a similar tour in
January to announce the construction of the barrier along the border, Netanyahu
was told that in 2009 some 5,000 migrants had infiltrated the country. After
protracted bureaucratic infighting, work on the barrier began a few weeks
The prime minister, during a brief press conference at the site on
Sunday, said that more than 99% of these migrants were “economic refuges”
looking for a better standard of living, and less than 1% were “political
refugees,” whom Israel would absorb.
He said it might be necessary to
replicate the construction of the barrier being build on the 240-kilometer
border with Egypt at the eastern border with Jordan as well, since once the
Egyptian border was closed, the migrants would look for other “holes in the
Netanyahu said the battle against the migrants, which he
characterized as a “flood” that needed to be stemmed, was something that needed
to be waged on a number of levels.
“We are not talking only about a
barrier, but rather an integrated system that deals with deployment of forces,
intelligence, stopping them before they get to the border, pressure and fines on
employers, activity in the international arena, and dealing with the
infiltrators when we find them,” he said.
Netanyahu said the IDF’s
assessments were that it would be possible to cut the number of migrants by half
in 2011, and even further in 2012.
Dodging a question about whether his
government failed by not building the barrier sooner, Netanyahu said that while
for the past five years previous governments only talked about the problem, his
government began tackling it. Saying that significant changes would be evident
soon, he added, “I am very determined to build this barrier.”
warned that as word of Israel’s actions to stem the tide of the migrants got
back to Eritrea and Sudan, there might be a surge of migrants making a move
toward Israel, before the barrier was completed.
Asked about some signs
of racism in the country toward the migrants, Netanyahu said the migrants were
trying to enter Israel not only because of economic opportunities, but also
because they realized they would be treated humanely.
“There are signs of
extremism,” he said. “These signs of extremism will increase if instead of 1,000
people a month, 12,000 a year, we would see 40,000 or 50,000 a year, and that is
But, he said, regarding the country’s humanity, “we are unique
in the region, and possibly in the world.
“We are a humane country, but
also a sane one,” he said. “And as a sane country, we must defend ourselves,
defend the national character of Israel, and we are obligated to close the
border, and that is what we will do.”
Just before Netanyahu’s trip south,
the cabinet gave the green light to the construction of a detention center
expected to be able to hold up to 10,000 infiltrators.
The rationale for
the decision, according to a statement issued after the meeting, was to “reduce
the economic incentive for the migrants to arrive in Israel,” since if potential
migrants know that rather than being allowed to look for work after crossing the
border, they will be placed in a detention facility, they might have second
thoughts about making the grueling trip.
Since Israeli law does not
currently allow for infiltrators to be “locked up,” they will be held in an open
facility where their basic needs will be provided for. In the meantime, the
Knesset will draw up laws that would allow for facilities such as this one to be
Netanyahu was joined on his trip south by Defense
Minister Ehud Barak, Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch and Chief of
General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi.