In a unanimous vote, the Israeli cabinet agreed on a $160 million plan to stem the entry of undocumented African immigrants.
“This is a national epidemic,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the cabinet. An estimated 50,000 immigrants from eastern African nations such as Sudan and Eritrea have entered Israel illegally since 2006. Addressing the cabinet ahead of the vote, Netanyahu called the influx of undocumented immigrants a “national scourge” that threatens the economic and social stability of the country.
"If we don't take action to stanch this illegal flow, then we will simply be inundated," he said.
The million-dollar plan adopted this weekend includes the construction of a 150-mile barrier wall that spans the entire border Israel shares with Egypt, where migrants are regularly known to pass, and a new detention center to hold the expected swell of offenders. Funds will also be allotted toward enforcing labor laws against offending employers.
Yet many are calling the move insensitive, as many of the migrants are arriving in Israel from some of the most unstable nations in the world.
"Across the world, 88 percent of Eritrean migrants who seek asylum are recognized as refugees," said Reut Michaeli, an attorney for The Hotline for Migrant Workers, told the Associated Press. "I find it very difficult to believe that the ones who come to Israel are any different."
And among Israelis, emotions are split between those who feel the influx of foreigners will compromise the character of the Jewish state and others who feel uncomfortable with turning away people fleeing persecution, giving the history of the Holocaust.
"Israel is a small country, we can't afford a flood of illegal job-seekers,” Netanyahu said. “It is a threat to our society, our economy and our security."
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(Photo: Uriel Sinai/Getty images)