A security fence built along the increasingly anarchic Israeli-Egyptian border is having its desired effect, according to figures released last week by Israel’s Population, Immigration and Borders Authority. Last year at this time 9,570 incidents had been recorded of migrants illegally crossing into Israel from the Egypt-controlled Sinai Peninsula.
This year that number is just 34.
The 235-kilometer fence is largely credited with the decrease, as are new legal measures that have allowed Israel to detain illegal immigrants for three years. The result has been a deterrent effect.
Large-scale illegal African migration to Israel began in the mid-2000s, and by last year had passed more than 50,000 people. Sixty-percent live in Tel Aviv, another 20 people in the southern resort town of Eilat, and the rest mostly between Jerusalem and Ashdod.
The largest groups of immigrants are economic migrants from Eritrea, Sudan, and Ethiopia who are ineligible for asylum under the U.N.’s code for refugees fleeing conflict or persecution. A few hundred Sudanese who fled the violence in Darfur, however, have sought refugee status and received preliminary approval. A 2011 Supreme Court decision allows them to work in Israel until further notice.
The question over what to do with those migrants already in Israel is complicated by concerns that they will potentially aid terrorist groups for ideological reasons – a significant portion are Muslim – or for pay. Concerns have also been raised over the migrants’ involvement in crime. In 2011, 1,200 criminal cases were filed against illegal immigrants from Africa – half of them in Tel Aviv – an increase of 54 percent from the year before.
[Photo: US Embassy Tel Aviv / Flickr]