A vast detention complex is rising from the sandy grounds of Ktzi’ot prison in the Negev desert, close to Israel‘s border with Egypt, which will become the world’s largest holding facility for asylum seekers and migrants.
When it is completed, at an initial cost of £58m to the Israeli government, it will be capable of holding up to 11,000 people.
Despite unprecedented protests at rising costs of living, and increased threats to national security in a volatile, post-Arab spring Middle East, immigration is of such paramount importance to Binyamin Netanyahu’s coalition that it has skimmed a minimum of 2% from every ministry’s budget to fund the construction and start-up costs of the building.
“We are a small country of 8 million. Last year we had more illegal immigrants than legal ones,” said Mark Regev, the Israeli government’s spokesman.
“We are currently the only first-world economy and the only democracy in the region. But for people coming from countries like Somalia and Sudan, we cannot be the solution.”
Regev said the new detention centre, which should receive its first 3,000 detainees by the end of this year, was part of a multi-tiered strategy to tackle and deter economic migration. Other measures include a security fence that will run the length of Israel’s southern border, aggressive implementation of employment laws and, ultimately, repatriation of the migrants.
In January, the Knesset passed a controversial bill categorising anyone attempting to enter the country through its southern border as an “infiltrator” who can be detained for three years – longer if they are from a “hostile state” such as Sudan.
“If we find any bona fide refugees, some will be able to stay and others will be sent to a third country that accepts refugees,” said Regev.
Of the 13,683 people who entered Israel illegally in 2010, 62% were Eritreans and 33% were Sudanese. According to UNHCR figures, 66% of Eritreans who arrive illegally in the UK are granted refugee status and 96% of those arriving in Canada. (cont … The Guardian)