Ben Hartmann, The Jerusalem Post, December 8, 2011
Interior minister dismisses notion that some Africans are asylum seekers or refugees: “These are economic migrants.”
Interior Minister Eli Yishai vowed Thursday to exert every effort to see that “the last of the infiltrators return to their countries,” referring to the some 50,000 African economic migrants, asylum seekers and refugees currently in Israel.
Speaking with Army Radio, Yishai dismissed the notion that Sudanese, Eritreans and other Africans in Israel have any standing to seek political asylum. “These are notrefugees, these are economic migrants who want to come to Israel for work,” he said.
Their presence “is an existential threat” to the State of Israel, he asserted, vowing to “defend the Jewish majority.” The interior minister added, “Each and every one of them will return to their countries.”
The statements come as the government is advancing the construction of a detention center in the South to house asylum seekers and infiltrators and construction of a border fence along the Egyptian border is being accelerated.
An NGO helping African migrants slammed Yishai (Shas) for his comments, saying the Interior Minister does not understand the refugee situation in Israel or the tribulations of those seeking asylum in the country.
Orit Marom Advocacy coordinator at ASSAF the Aid Organization for Refugees and Asylum Seekers in Israel said “Eli Yishai, at the Interior Ministry, didn’t check any asylum request from the Eritreans and the Sudanese who make 90% of the asylum seekers. Therefore, there is no basis for him to assess that they are not refugees because he knows nothing about their situation.”
Marom added “the government of Israel speaks with two voices, one is the Foreign Ministry which says it is forbidden to return Eritreans to Eritrea because it is ruled by a dictator. The other is this demagoguery of Yishai saying they are migrant workers and we must kick them out. We’re tired of this double-talk.”
Next Sunday, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s NIS 630 million plan to complete construction on the fence and build the detention center will be submitted for cabinet approval, the PMO said in a statement released Wednesday.
The cost is in addition to the NIS 1.5 billion that has already been invested. In order not to break the budgetary framework, all ministries will be asked to allocate two percent of their budgets, the PMO stated.
An additional NIS 280 million will be allocated to complete the fence on the Egyptian border, which the government anticipates will be completed within a year’s time. A 70-kilometer section of the fence has already been completed. The fence is expected to be 240 kilometers in length when completed, stretching from the Kerem Shalom crossing in the west to the Taba crossing in the east.
NIS 250 million will be allocated for a new detention center in the South. An additional NIS 100 million will be allocated to operate and maintain the center, which is expected to hold 8,000 people.
Netanyahu said of the infiltrator problem, “Israel is a small country. We cannot allow ourselves to be flooded by illegal work infiltrators. This threatens our society, our economy and our security. Therefore, we must expedite our dealing with the problem.”