Most of the African refugees in Israel engage in crime and should be rounded up in prisons or holding facilities and then deported from the country, Interior Minister Eli Yishai (Shas) said in an Army Radio interview on Wednesday morning. “They should be put into holding cells or jails,” he said, “and then given a grant and sent back” to their countries of origin.

His remarks came the morning after police arrested four Eritrean and Sudanese men on suspicion of raping a woman in south Tel Aviv. South Tel Aviv has a high concentration of Africans, most of whom are suspected of entering the country illegally via Sinai, and tensions between refugees and city residents have run high in recent weeks.

Yishai tempered his remarks by saying that those officially designated as refugees by the government could stay, but that represents only a limited amount.

MK Dov Hanin (Hadash) condemned Yishai’s comments, calling them “incitement and populism” not befitting a democracy.

Likud MK Miri Regev defended him, however, saying his critics “shouldn’t be so hypocritical.”

Michal Pinchuk, director of the Aid Organization for Refugees and Asylum Seekers in Israel (ASSAF) also condemned Yishai’s remarks, saying that he “took advantage of individual criminal cases in order to incite against an entire population. These statements give legitimacy to racism and may lead to criminal acts, like those that took place recently against asylum seekers.”

She added that the government should find a real solution that allows refugees to “live in dignity” and not use “immoral” methods such as detentions and deportations to deal with the problem.

On Monday, MK Danny Danon (Likud) wrote on Facebook that he supported deporting 80 percent of illegal workers in Israel. “Infiltrators are a national calamity. We need deport them out of Israel before it is too late. The Sudanese can return to Sudan, and the rest return to their respective nations in Africa and Eastern Europe. it has been done in the past and must be done again,” he said.

No statistics are available for the number of Africans in the country illegally, but estimates range between 700 and 2,000 for South Sudanese alone. A report leaked on Tuesday indicated that the Foreign Ministry considers the deportation of South Sudanese refugees a viable legal recourse.

Internal Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovich said Wednesday that he plans to personally investigate the situation with illegal migrants in south Tel Aviv.