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Israel Approves Detention Center for Illegal Immigrants

Children of African migrants that have crossed into Israel from Egypt (file photo)
Children of African migrants that have crossed into Israel from Egypt (file photo)

Israel has adopted a controversial measure to deal with an influx of foreigners from Africa. On Sunday, its Cabinet has approved construction of a massive detention center to hold illegal migrants, who are flooding across Israel’s porous border with Egypt.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the influx of tens-of-thousands of migrant workers must be stopped because it is threatening not only jobs but also the Jewish character of the State of Israel.

Mr. Netanyahu said refugees fleeing from Sudan and other war-torn countries in Africa would be allowed to enter Israel as they have in the past.

But officials say only a small number of the 35,000 Africans, who have entered Israel over the past few years, are refugees. The rest are considered illegal economic migrants.

The detention center will be built in the desert in southern Israel. Netanyahu said the migrants will be provided food, shelter and health services until they are deported.

Israeli social workers and human rights groups have blasted the plan, saying it is reminiscent of the ghettos the Nazis built for the Jews during the Holocaust in World War II.

Anat Ben Dor of the Refugee Rights Clinic says Israel has a moral obligation to act differently. "I am very concerned because what we are building here is a refugee camp where people may languish for years on end, without proper employment or any sort of education. These places strip people of their humanity."

Last week, Israel began constructing a fence and barrier on the border with Egypt, aimed at preventing African migrants from entering the country.

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