By REBECCA ANNA STOIL
IDF units responsible for guarding Israel's expansive western border with Egypt said Thursday that there are one million would-be infiltrators from Africa waiting to cross the mostly barrier-less border and enter Israel illegally.
The statements were made to a group of MKs from the Knesset's Committee on the Issue of Foreign Workers, who traveled to the South to hear an assessment of the situation from those closest to the problem.
After hearing the briefing by IDF officers, the committee's members called upon the government to immediately initiate the IDF contingency plan that was approved by the Olmert administration, known as "Hourglass." The plan includes a number of steps to be taken to significantly reduce the number of work immigrants who infiltrate across Israel's expansive southern borders.
Committee Chairman Ya'acov Katz called upon the defense establishment to begin immediate work on one of the salient features of the proposed project - the erection of an electronic fence along hundreds of kilometers of isolated borderlands with Egypt. MKs Shai Hermesh (Kadima), Carmel Shama (Likud) and Nitzan Horovitz (Meretz) accompanied Katz on the tour. The cost of the fence is estimated at $1 million per kilometer.
"I salute the residents of the South who are coping with their cities being flooded by immigrants who endanger the stability of their communities," said Katz, who included the mayors of Eilat, Arad and other Negev-area cities in his committee's visit to the Egyptian border and the headquarters of the IDF's Eilat 80th Division, responsible for security along the border.
Eilat Municipality officials estimated that illegal infiltrators now constitute around seven percent of the city's population.
Katz has said that according to the data he has received, between 600 and 1000 people infiltrate across the desert border each month. But not all residents of the South are quite so enthusiastic regarding any cuts to the number of foreign workers in the work force. Even as Katz and his committee toured the Negev, farmers in the isolated Arava Valley put the finishing touches on their plans to launch a massive demonstration this coming Sunday to protest cuts to the number of foreign workers that they can employ on their farms.
The farmers complain that as they are located beyond commuting distance from any major cities, if they are not allowed to import hundreds of foreign workers - mostly from Thailand - they will simply not be able to harvest the produce that makes their farms viable.
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