Netanyahu: Flood of migrants must be stemmed

PM views work on barrier on Egyptian border after cabinet approves construction of detention center for infiltrators.

November 28, 2010 19:06
4 minute read.
PM Netanyahu inspects the Sinai border

Netanyahu Egypt Border 311. (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)

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.

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.

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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 ago.

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 fence.”

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.”

Netanyahu 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 possible.”

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 closed lock-ups.

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.

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