A fence should be built along the border with Egypt to prevent African refugees, migrant workers, weapons and drugs from being smuggled into Israel, Interior Minister Meir Sheetrit said Tuesday. The lack of a barrier between the two countries has contributed to the increasing flow of refugees from Sudan via Egypt, he said. "It will most likely cost about NIS 1.5 million to build such a fence," Sheetrit told The Jerusalem Post. "But that is a very small price for Israel to pay compared to what it will cost us if we do not build such a fence." He said a fence has not been built because of "laziness, bad management and indecisiveness" on the part of previous governments.
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"A year ago, we had 300 people coming here from Sudan through Egypt," Sheetrit said. "Today we have 300 a week and, in my opinion, if we don't stop it now, we will reach 3,000 a week.
"Israel can't take in hundreds of thousands of people. As a Jewish state, Israel should take in a quota of people from Darfur, care for them and help them find jobs - like we have done for other groups of refugees in the past."
Only about 300 of the more than 3,000 refugees who have entered Israel illegally from Egypt's Sinai region were fleeing from the troubles in Darfur, Sheetrit said. More than 1,000 refugees have arrived here from other areas of Sudan, while many others have come from Eritrea, Ghana and Kenya, he said.
"This is a big issue and it's just another example of how intolerably easy it is to get into Israel," Sheetrit said. He said Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, on the basis of recommendations by the previous interior minister, Ronnie Bar-On, was considering the possibility of returning many of the asylum seekers to Egypt.
Two weeks ago, the government set aside an area in Ketziot Prison in the Negev to provide shelter for the refugees, many of whom had been taken to Beersheba and left in the streets by border policemen. Nonprofit organizations and volunteers helped the refugees, providing them with food, clothing and shelter.
It was "scandalous" that Israel's border is so porous, Eytan Schwartz, a refugee activist, said. Nevertheless, he said, no refugees should be sent back, whether from Darfur or elsewhere in Sudan.
"Anyone who has already entered Israel can never go back to Sudan because he will be killed," Schwartz said.