Middle East

Israel to put African migrants in detention camp

A volunteer hands out food to African migrants in Tel Aviv June 4, 2012. (REUTERS/Baz Ratner)

OCCUPIED JERUSALEM: Israel’s interior minister said Friday he hoped to soon start moving tens of thousands of illegal African migrants from Tel Aviv and elsewhere to a detention camp being built and a planned “tent city.”

An Israeli court cleared the way Thursday for the deportation of an estimated 1,500 South Sudanese, after ruling that their lives were no longer threatened in their homeland.

Interior Minister Eli Yishai told public radio 40,000 Sudanese and Eritreans were next in his sights.

“There are still about 15,000 from north Sudan and some 35,000 from Eritrea,” he said. “I am not allowed to get them out at the moment.”

He said he expected legal obstacles would be removed and that the government was also offering a grant to those prepared to leave voluntarily.

“They are close to being expelled either willingly or against their will,” he said. “This is a number that threatens the Jewish identity.”

As a first step, he said, illegals would be rounded up and moved to a detention center being built in southern Israel at a projected cost of 250 million shekels ($6.7 million).

“As soon as the facility is completed, which could be in a few months – and alongside it we plan to put up a tent city with all the accepted conditions – then we shall start moving migrants from south Tel Aviv, from [the Red Sea town of] Eilat ... wherever they are.”

The rising number of Africans in Israel has hit the headlines in recent weeks, after a spike in racial tensions led to a riot in southern Tel Aviv.

Interior Ministry statistics show that around 60,000 African immigrants have entered Israel illegally, the vast majority of them from Sudan and Eritrea.

Some are refugees fleeing persecution in their home nations, but others are economic migrants.

Yishai said he estimated a further 6,000 may have sneaked across the border from Egypt undetected.

“I hope that in the coming months we shall be able to move all the infiltrators to detention facilities and allow Israeli citizens in south Tel Aviv and others to live in a proper way ... in quiet and security,” he added.

Israel is building a giant, high-tech security barrier along its 240-kilometer border with Sinai. So far 170 kilometers have been erected and the project is due to be completed later this year.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on June 09, 2012, on page 8.




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