JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israel’s interior minister, Eli Yishai, promised to deport the tens of thousands of Africans who have crossed into his country illegally in recent years.
"I will safeguard the Jewish majority and the state, and I ensure that the last of the Sudanese, and the Eritreans, and all of the infiltrators, to the last of them, will return to their countries," Yishai, of the Shas party, told Army Radio. "I have pity on the people of Israel."
Upheaval in neighboring Egypt has stirred concern in Israel over a surge in border jumping by Sudanese and Eritrean migrants, who make their way across the Sinai with the help of smugglers.
Approximately 40,000 of the Africans are now in Israel, most of them allowed to settle and work in major cities, though authorities generally grant them neither refugee status nor formal refugee status.
The influx has worried some Israelis about a potential demographic threat, while others have argued that the migrants should be taken in on humanitarian grounds.
The Interior Ministry, which says most of the Africans come to Israel for work rather than asylum from persecution, has been exploring ways of repatriating them. A few hundred have voluntarily flown out to third-party countries after being paid a small stipend by the Israeli government. Directly returning the migrants is difficult, as Israel has no relations with Sudan. The United Nations, meanwhile, recommends against sending Eritrean expatriates back to Asmara, which does recognize Israel but has suffered from war.
Israel has been erecting a fence along its porous Sinai border, which is scheduled for completion next year.