Israeli cabinet approves detention centre for illegal immigrants


The Israeli government has announced it will build a detention centre for the growing number of people entering the country illegally.

Since 2005, there has been an influx of Africans, the vast majority of them Sudanese and Eritreans. More than 35,000 of them have reached Israel via Egypt.

At the end of November, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu declared: "This growing wave threatens Israelis' jobs, is changing the character of the country and we must stop it." He added that "there has been talk for years but now we are not talking".

His solution, subsequently approved by the cabinet, is to build
a 10,000-capacity detention facility - or in his parlance a "housing centre" - over the next six months near Israel's southern border. A government statement said that it will "supply the infiltrators with their basic needs, such as lodging, food, drink and health needs".

The decision to establish the centre came shortly after the government announced it would stop its current practice of turning a blind eye to illegal immigrants working.

They threaten jobs and must be stopped

The centre is a "necessary condition" for this crackdown, said the government statement.

But advocates for the immigrants are furious. "I don't want to think what kind of humanitarian disaster there will be if they really implement their plans," said Sigal Rozen, public activities co-ordinator for the Hotline for Migrant Workers.

Her argument is that the detention centre will hold less than a third of all of Israel's illegal immigrants, yet on the basis that it exists, all will be stopped from working. Those not in the centre "will live on the streets without food and shelter", she predicted.

Immigrants' advocates and the government are at loggerheads over why the people sneak into Israel. Mr Netanyahu has described the wave as a "mass entry of illegal infiltrators who are looking for work". But Ms Rosen considers these "false assumptions," arguing that most are looking for asylum, and that trying to make Israel seem less attractive will not deter them.

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