Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu defended an electrified fence along the Israel-Egypt border Tuesday, saying it was needed to ward off a wave of African migrants who are a greater threat than Islamic terrorists.
If it weren’t for the controversial border barrier, Israel would be in danger of of losing its national character, Netanyahu said.
“Were it not for the fence, we would be faced with … severe attacks by Sinai terrorists, and something much worse — a flood of illegal migrants from Africa,” the prime minister’s office quoted him as telling a development conference in the southern Israel.
Before Israel completed a barrier along its border with Egypt in 2013, about 60,000 African migrants — mostly from Sudan and Eritrea — crossed the desert frontier and settled in the Tel Aviv area. Many of the illegal immigrants say they fled violence and persecution, but Israel treats them as economic migrants.
About 38,000 African migrants are still living illegally in Israel, immigration officials say. Israel has granted asylum to fewer than 1 percent of those who have applied, with the aim of getting most of the migrants to return to their home countries.
Netanyahu’s remarks Tuesday echoed previous statements he has made about the resettlement of African migrants in Israel as harmful to the country’s Jewish character and social cohesion.
“How could we have guaranteed a Jewish-democratic state with 50,000 and after that 100,000, and it would have reached 1.5 million [illegal immigrants]?” Netanyahu said, according to Haaretz.
Rather than “close down the country,” Israel built a wall, the prime minister added.
Despite outcry from human rights groups, Netanyahu intends to expel most of the remaining African migrants currently living in Israel. Single male asylum seekers are scheduled for deportation beginning in April.
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