Israel okays funding to block African migrants
CAIRO: The Israeli government on Sunday voted unanimously to launch a $160 million program to curtail illegal African migrants ability to enter the country from Egypt's Sinai Peninsula. The program will boost the country's ability to build a large border fence and will also expand a detention center able to hold thousands of new illegal arrivals.
The move comes after many in Israel have expressed anger at the large number of Africans, mainly from Sudan, Eritrea and Ethiopia, entering the country through the Sinai. Since 2006, the Israeli government estimates that approximately 50,000 Africans have entered southern Israel.
Those in opposition to the migrants claims of asylum argue they are not Jewish and have left an economic and social burden on Israel.
However, others believe the government is moving toward a Nazi-style policy that would turn people away who are facing persecution or genocide, but this community remains in the minority in Israel.
Addressing the Cabinet, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the increasing number of migrants is "a national scourge."
Netanyahu, like other officials, said the overwhelming majority of infiltrators are not refugees escaping persecution, but instead "have come to Israel seeking better economic opportunities."
"If we don't take action to stanch this illegal flow, then we will simply be inundated," he said.
The prime minister said he would look into repatriating a number of the eonomic migrants during visits to Africa in the coming year.
The program also comes in response to what Israeli officials say is poor border security by Egyptian police, which often result in the shooting of Africans. In early December, one African was shot dead by Egyptian police and two others wounded when they attempted to enter Israel.
Many African migrants try to cross to Israel every year through Egypt's Sinai Peninsula seeking a better life.
Egypt's border security has been repeatedly criticized for its "shoot first" strategy in dealing with migrants attempting to cross into the Jewish state, as they often do not issue verbal warnings first and fire at the Africans.
Africans in Egypt complain of poor living conditions and bad treatment at the hands of their host nation. Many see Israel as the next best solution for their troubles and are willing to risk death to reach the Jewish state, refugees in Egypt have repeatedly said.
Ali, a Somali refugee in Cairo, told Bikyamasr.com that living in Egypt is "one of the worst things I have experienced in my life." He points to racism and lack of opportunities as the main hardships.
He was the victim of police's heavy hand in Egypt a few years ago when he and two roommates were held in connection with the murder of an elderly man in their building. According to Ali, the two Somali men and one woman were detained for 9 months without charge and were "tortured on a regular basis." He says life is hard.
"I know a lot of people who would rather risk being killed on the border than continue to sit around Cairo and be faced with all these troubles because of our status. We can't even work," he said.
Dozens of Africans have been shot dead by Egyptian police in recent years, as refugees and migrants continue to complain of poor treatment and conditions inside Egypt.