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Israel approves detention camp for job-seekers from Africa

Nov. 28, 2010 2:42 P.M. (Updated: Nov. 28, 2010 2:50 P.M.)
JERUSALEM (AFP) -- The Israeli government on Sunday approved the creation of a detention center near its southern border with Egypt to house thousands of illegal immigrants from Africa seeking work.

A statement from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office said the cabinet had approved the plan for the camp, but did not immediately provide details.

Speaking before the meeting, Netanyahu said the camp was a key component in his plan to "stop the wave of illegal immigrants into the state."

"This wave is growing and it threatens the jobs of Israelis. It is changing the face of the state and we have to stop it," he said.

Last week work began on a 250-kilometer fence along the Egyptian border aimed at stopping the influx of migrants. It is expected to cost $365 million and will incorporate unspecified technological measures.

The Israel-Egypt border has become a major transit route for economic migrants and asylum-seekers, many of them from Sudan and Eritrea.

Netanyahu said the detention center was designed as a solution for job-seekers, not for true refugees.

"We are not stopping the entry of war refugees. We allow them in and will continue to allow them in," he said.

"But we have to stop the mass entry of illegal work seekers due to the severe impact they can have on the nature and future of the state of Israel.

"We have to have a humanitarian answer for those who will be denied work. We have to give them food and health services until they leave the country," Netanyahu said.

Activists working with the African immigrants condemned the plan.

"It is very upsetting that Israel has decided to deal with asylum and work seekers by locking them up in a ghetto," Reut Michaeli, the head of a group that provides assistance to foreign workers, told public radio.

"It's a place where the government ... won't know how to deal with them. It will create a huge humanitarian disaster," she said.

In recent years tens of thousands of African migrants have crossed the Egyptian border into Israel.

Egyptian border guards often shoot at African migrants who pay smugglers for passage into Israel to escape poverty and look for work, and many have been killed.

The New York-based group Human Rights Watch last month urged Egypt to stop shooting migrants, saying its security forces had killed at least 85 migrants trying to enter Israel since 2007.
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