Israel says halted African migration across Egypt border

JERUSALEM Sun Nov 4, 2012 8:59am EST

1 of 2. Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem November 4, 2012. Israel has stopped the unapproved influx of African migrants across its border with Egypt, Netanyahu said on Sunday after months of intensive counter-measures on the once porous desert frontier.

Credit: Reuters/Gali Tibbon/Pool

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel has stopped the unapproved influx of African migrants across its once porous border with Egypt after months of intensive counter-measures, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday.

More than 60,000 Africans, most of them men, have walked into the Jewish state in recent years seeking work or refuge. They have stirred fear for public order and demographics, coming under occasional racially-motivated street violence.

The government has responded by erecting a heavily patrolled fence on the frontier with the Egyptian Sinai desert, pursuing legal penalties against Israelis who hire migrants without work permits and launching so far small-scale deportation drives.

Netanyahu told his cabinet on Sunday that 54 migrants crossed the border in October and were all taken into custody - a steep decline from the some 2,000 migrants who came through monthly by mid-2012, many of them settling in Israeli cities.

"Given this figure, we can say explicitly that we have halted the infiltration. And now we have to focus on removing or returning those infiltrators who are already in the territory of Israel to their countries of origin," the conservative premier said.

Israel brands the vast majority of the migrants, more than 80 percent of whom are adult males, as illegal job-seekers. Humanitarian agencies say they should be considered for asylum. Some Israelis have been troubled that their country, founded by war refugees and immigrants, is packing foreigners en masse.

But only a few thousand migrants from South Sudan and Ivory Coast have been targeted for expulsion. The bulk of the migrants are from Sudan or Eritrea, and Israel's ability to repatriate them is limited. The former is a hostile Muslim state, the latter deemed a ravaged danger zone by refugee advocates.

Israel was holding around 2,500 migrants caught at the Egyptian border or rounded up by city police in two desert stockades, an Israeli official told Reuters, adding that the relatively low number reflected the fact that "there has not yet been any major deportation campaign".

William Tall, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees representative in Israel, saw in the Netanyahu government's inaction against the Sudanese and Eritreans a de facto immunity.

"I think we all understand that if the government was capable of deporting them, it would have moved to do so long ago," Tall said.

He agreed that migration across the Israel-Egypt border had dropped off "dramatically", suggesting that among disincentives had been Cairo's recent military mobilization against jihadi groups in the Sinai.

(Writing by Dan Williams, Editing by Jeffrey Heller)

FILED UNDER:
We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/
Comments (4)
Abulafiah wrote:
Must keep the population of Israel pure…

Nov 04, 2012 6:25am EST  --  Report as abuse
Free_Pacific wrote:
I saw an interview with several of these african migrants. The ones shown were being expelled, they spoke good english and seemed educated. It was mind boggling to see them expelled, families and all. Lets hope they find their way down under, they had a ‘lets work and make a better life’ attitude. We could use more people like that.

Nov 04, 2012 7:39am EST  --  Report as abuse
Abulafiah wrote:
The whole idea of ‘not one of us’ is disturbing. Borders are man-made, and there is no patch of soil with special qualities, growing special people.

Nov 04, 2012 8:17am EST  --  Report as abuse
This discussion is now closed. We welcome comments on our articles for a limited period after their publication.