Last updated: 11 December, 2011

Israel Prime Minister plans Africa trip over migrant issue

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will visit Africa to discuss illegal migration from the continent to the Jewish state, he said on Sunday, as his cabinet approved new measures to combat the problem.

Speaking ahead of a cabinet meeting to approve ways to deal with an influx of illegal migrants, Netanyahu announced “I intend to travel to Africa later to discuss and advance procedures for returning them (migrants) to Africa.”

The Israeli premier gave no indication of which countries he would visit or when he would travel, but he stressed that he considered the arrival of illegal migrants a serious issue.

“This is a national calamity, in every field,” he said. “We have no obligation to accept illegal infiltrators, and I distinguish between them and the question of refugees, who are but a minuscule component of this human deluge.”

On Sunday, the cabinet approved the allocation of 630 million shekels ($167 million, 124 million euros) for new measures to tackle the issue.

The programme approved includes stepped-up measures against Israelis employing illegal migrants and expedited construction of a security barrier along the border with Egypt.

It also provides funds for the construction of a new detention facility and extends the period that illegal migrants can be detained to three years.

According to data presented to the cabinet, there are currently 52,487 illegal economic migrants in Israel.

Netanyahu stressed his plan wasn’t aimed at refugees, rather “entire populaces that are moving toward Israel, which is a very developed and humane country.”

“If we don’t stop this illegal flood, we’ll be washed away by it,” he warned.

Activists argue that the government figures misrepresent the number of migrants who are legitimate asylum seekers and accuse the authorities of turning away those in need.

But communities most affected by the influx, including the southern town of Eilat, have long lobbied the government to take stronger measures to stem the arrivals.