Netanyahu ready for 'stage 2' in expelling migrants

In bid to rob Shas of issue, PMO releases figures showing number of migrants fell from 2,031 in May to 29 this month.

Migrants at Egypt border 370 (photo credit: reuters)
Migrants at Egypt border 370
(photo credit: reuters)
In an apparent effort to deprive Shas of an election issue, the Prime Minister’s Office on Monday released figures showing the numbers of African migrants infiltrating Israel dropped from 2,031 in May, to 29 so far this month.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu also convened a meeting Monday to discuss “progress in the process of repatriating illegal work infiltrators to their countries of origin.”
According to a statement put out by the Prime Minister’s Office, Netanyahu envoy Hagai Hadas – charged with responsibility for negotiations with African countries – reviewed the progress that has been made on the issue. No details were provided regarding progress.
Hadas, who formerly worked for the Mossad, was Netanyahu’s chief negotiator for two years and worked to free Gilad Schalit from Hamas captivity.
Shas, which Netanyahu’s Likud party is bitterly fighting for votes, has over the last year made the illegal migrants a major issue, with Interior Minister and Shas political leader Eli Yishai leading the campaign to halt the flow of migrants into the country and send those already here back home.
One government official downplayed Monday’s meeting on the subject and the likelihood of repatriating most of the migrants. Of the approximately 60,000 migrants, the vast majority – or about 50,000 – is believed to be from Eritrea and Sudan, where repatriation is out of the question.
The Eritreans, believed to number 35,000 people, cannot be sent back because of the human rights situation in that country and the determination by several UN agencies that sending people back there would put their lives in jeopardy.
The Sudanese refugees, believed to number some 15,000, cannot be repatriated because their deportation would have to be coordinated with Khartoum, an impossibility since Sudan is an enemy state with whom Israel has no diplomatic relations.
While some infiltrators have been repatriated to South Sudan, this makes up but a tiny amount of the total amount of migrants illegally in the country.
The government official also scoffed at the idea of deporting the migrants to other countries, saying there are no countries in Africa or around the world that are standing with their doors open ready to receive them.
Nevertheless, Netanyahu said at the start of the meeting that just as Israel succeeded in blocking the entry of “hundreds of thousands” of migrants through the construction of the fence along the border with Sinai, “now we are moving on to the second stage, that of repatriating the infiltrators who are already here.”
The prime minister said Hadas was holding contacts with various African governments with the goal of “repatriating tens of thousands of infiltrators.”
Just as keeping the migrants from entering the country was possible, Netanyahu noted, “so too is repatriation possible, and we will achieve this goal.”
Meanwhile, Sigal Rozen, public policy coordinator at the Hotline for Migrant Workers, concurred with the official. She said she does not think the move will happen, and that is mostly just a political statement made by Netanyahu ahead of the January elections.
“We don’t think it will happen because we know it’s impossible, and we also don’t think he’ll stoop that low – to deport thousands of refugees back to the countries they fled,” she said.
Rozen also took note of the timing of the message, which came on Christmas Eve, saying that most of the Eritreans in Israel, who make up the majority of the more than 60,000 African migrants in Israel, are Christian.
Rozen added, “He’s always saying stuff like this, this is not the first time. We’ll have to see if it’s something more serious or just an attempt to win votes from the far-right.”
Rozen’s statement was supported by far-right MK Michael Ben-Ari (Strong Israel), who quite possibly has been the government’s most vocal antimigrant activist in recent years.
“Maybe we should hold the elections every four months so that then Netanyahu will deal with the ‘infiltrators’ issue,” he said.