Forty-nine migrants entered Israel illegally during the month of October, a sharp drop from the same month a year before, the interior minister said Sunday, pointing to strict new anti-migrant policies as behind the decrease.
Israel has begun cracking down on African migrants sneaking into the country looking for work or refuge from dire conditions in their home countries. There are no official numbers, but officials estimate that tens of thousands of people have flowed in from Sudan, South Sudan, Eritrea and other African countries in the last several years.
While October 2011 saw 1,998 migrants enter Israel illegally through the Sinai, only 49 came in so far in October 2012. The numbers follow similar sharp drops in the last several months as the crackdown has taken hold.
Interior Minister Eli Yishai, who has railed against the migrants and led drives to have them repatriated, credited the change to the ministry’s “uncompromising implementation” of the Infiltration Law, the introduction of detention facilities and enforcement activity of the Immigration Authority.
Yishai added that “the problems posed by the infiltrators’ presence cannot be solved without the State Attorney’s willingness to implement the government’s decisions by allowing the transfer of infiltrators into specially designed incarceration facilities.”
The statement was a reference to an ultimatum he issued in August to the effect that, on October 15, he would begin to incarcerate asylum seekers. The Jerusalem District Court on October 11 issued a preliminary injunction prohibiting the arrest of Sudanese asylum seekers, and the State Attorney’s Office on Thursday said the ultimatum does not represent an official government policy.
In interviews with the media, Yishai has stressed that one purpose of such detentions would be to make the lives of the Sudanese asylum seekers unbearable. “We will make their life in Israel hell, so that they’ll wish to return to their countries of origin,” he said in August.
Israel is currently completing a fence along its long border with Egypt, with the aim of both stopping African migrants and terrorists from entering Israel. In September, Israel came under heavy international pressure after refusing to allow in a group of men, women and children who approached the fence. Jerusalem eventually agreed to allow in three women and children and sent the other 18 back to Egypt.
Yishai added the Interior Ministry is currently working in tandem with the Prime Minister’s Office in order to orchestrate the transfer of Eritrean and Sudanese migrants to a third country.