Israel is taking steps to curb the influx of migrant workers arriving from Africa.
With about 2,000 African migrants illegally entering Israel each month, the Cabinet approved a program to deal with what it sees as a growing threat.
The $167-million plan calls for speeding up construction of a security fence on the porous border with Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, from where the migrants are smuggled into Israel. Detention facilities will be constructed and expanded to hold the migrants, and employers who hire them will be fined.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel must take decisive action before it is too late.
“This is a national epidemic,” Netanyahu told the Cabinet. He said it poses a threat to Israel economically, socially and from the standpoint of security.
Officials say more than 40,000 illegal African migrants have entered Israel since 2006, most of them from war-torn Sudan and Eritrea. That has raised alarm in a small Jewish state already facing a growing demographic threat from the Palestinians.
Netanyahu warned that if the trend is not stopped, the number of Africans entering Israel could rise to 100,000 a year.
“We have no obligation to receive illegal migrants,” he said, adding that if Israel does not stop the flood, the nation will be swept away by it.
The issue poses a moral dilemma for Israel because during the Holocaust, Jewish refugees fleeing from the Nazis were turned away from Western countries.
Reut Michaeli, who heads Israel’s Hotline for Migrant Workers, says the government’s response is wrong.
Michaeli told Israel Radio that Israel is a nation of refugees that was established by refugees, and therefore it has an obligation to open its doors to Africans who have fled from war and persecution.
But the government says the vast majority of Africans arriving here are economic migrants and not refugees.
Prime Minister Netanyahu plans to travel to several African nations soon to discuss repatriating the migrants.