Illegal immigrants threaten Israel's economy
Updated: 2011-12-05 09:01
JERUSALEM - Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Sunday pledged to crack down on the illegal immigrants flowing to his country, citing the threat their infiltration poses to the Jewish state.
"I view the flooding illegal, job-seeking immigrants as threats to our economy, society, security and the delicate demographic fabric which Israel is built on," Netanyahu said at the cabinet's weekly session.
"We are determined to protect our border and our citizens' jobs ... It is the obligation of any government that is concerned about the future of its people," he said.
The prime minister's comments followed a visit he made to the southern port city of Eilat last week, where he addressed a lawyers' conference.
Netanyahu paid a surprise visit to a local neighborhood that has turned into a slum inhabited by hundreds of African asylum- seekers, who fled to Israel through the nearby border with Egypt.
"I heard the residents' cry about their city being flooded with illegal immigrants. One needs to stand there and listen to them, to hear the despair of the mothers and fathers and business owners, who feel that they are losing their city and the ability to have a normal life," Netanyahu recounted his experience to the cabinet.
He said that "similar cries can be heard in other cities around the country."
The interior ministry says an estimate of 27,000 Africans now live in Israel seeking asylum in the Jewish state under the UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees.
The majority of the immigrants are from Sudan and Eritrea while others come from Ethiopia and Nigeria. Most of them entered Israel virtually unimpeded through Israel's flimsy 240 kilometer-long desert border with Egypt. Even if they get arrested, many will receive a special visa that allows a non-deportable asylum seeker to stay under international law.
On Sunday, Netanyahu blamed the illegal immigrant flow, which reached a record level in the past few months, on the global economic crisis and the regional upheavals.
He said that his visit to Eilat prompted him to press for accelerated construction of a fence now in progress along the border and promise that it would be completed within a year.
The prime minister said that he had also directed a special ministerial committee to draft measures that will impose heavier fines on Israelis who employ illegal immigrants.