Tel-Aviv is adopting a series of measures to put an end to the infiltration of Africans fleeing war and poverty.
"Israel is a small country. We cannot tolerate a wave of illegal immigrants. It's a pain in the neck for the economy, society and security."
Using such words to describe the issue of Sub-Saharan refugees within the borders of the Jewish state, Benyamin Netanyahu has dashed the hope of many who still dream of exile to the Promised Land.
On December 11 the Israeli Prime Minister detailed a drastic plan aiming to contain the influx of illegal immigrants, about 52, 487 according to the last official count. Eighty five percent are of Sudanese and Eritrean origin.
Without much surprise Netanyahu's cabinet approved the programme that will cost close to US$158 million after first making a two percent budget cut on all ministries. It is being funded by Knesset's Commission of Interior Affairs.
The defence sector will shell out the most money – US$75 million dollars. That amount will go towards the speedy construction of a 240km long electronic barrier along the Egyptian-Israeli border, known for its contraband and terrorist infiltrations. Construction, which began at the end of last year, should end in September 2012, with some six months to spare.
Another measure taken will be the expansion of refugee welcome centres, starting with Camp Ketziot in the Neguev furnace, once used for Palestinian prisoners. Ketziot's capacity will be increased from 2,000 to 5,400 and another complex with a 10,000 capacity is expected to follow.
The government is lying to us
In conformity with the law, those seeking asylum will be detained for two months - currently, detention spans 15 days. It is usually during those 15 days that they are dispersed by the bus load into the heart of Israel's largest cities where most Sub-Saharan African refugees are left to fend for themselves.
Netanyahu's action plan aims at being dissuasive. To discourage future immigrants trying to sneak into the country, the government is working on creating legislation that will make any clandestine worker caught red-handed subject to three years in prison.
And sanctions aimed at Israeli employers have also been tightened. Henceforth, employers who hire undocumented workers will have to pay a $20, 000 fine, as opposed to the current $1,200 and could see their businesses closed down. Last year the courts allowed the legislation to pass under one condition: They must construct a welcome centre for refugees.
"Without a counter-plan to these clandestine workers, we'll end up counting 100,000 more every year," estimated Netanyahu, who intends to rely on their countries of origin.
Next February he will go on another tour of Africa to negotiate the progressive return of the immigrants to their countries.*
These past few months, the question of Sub-Saharan refugees has emerged as a national priority for authorities who fear being overwhelmed by an influx of migrants.
A new record was hit in November with the entrance of 2,676 immigrants out of a total of 13,581 since the beginning of the year. And Netanyahu has been hammering the idea that this phenomenon that restarted in 2005, "puts the Jewish character and Israeli democracy in jeopardy."
This could explain why no Sub-Saharan petitioner for asylum has reached nor has been able to obtain refugee status.
Even if its outlines were once enunciated by the Minister of Interior, Eli Yishai, who is very involved in the matter, the government's plan is being denounced by many Israeli NGOs for manipulating the public.
"The government is lying to us," protests Rehoute Michaeli, President of the Association to Support Foreign Workers. "They are telling us they're illegal immigrants even though they are refugees. No one is telling us the truth, nor are they paying attention to the motives behind them seeking asylum."
From this point on, the future looks bleak for Sub-Saharan immigrants. They are condemned a second time whilst in exile.
Israel and East Africa
Since Levi Eshkol in 1966, no other Israeli Prime Minister has made an official visit to Africa. In other words, Benyamin Netanyahu's African trip, planned for next February, promises to be eventful. He is expected to question Sub-Saharan refugees whose fates are to be sealed by the government. Netanyahu will attempt to convince several governments to repatriate immigrants back into their respective countries, in particular those from South Sudan. A visit to Juba was envisioned, however it was cancelled for security reasons. This month, Salva Kiir, president of the newly independent state of South Sudan made an official visit to the Jewish state. Other sources indicate that the Israeli Prime Minister will use the meetings to cajole his way into new strategic alliances. Kenya and Uganda, whose presidents visited Israel last month, are expected to be two major stops during "Bibi's" African visit.