Sudanese migrants - Tomer Appelbaum - December 2011
Sudanese migrants caught crossing the Egyptian border earlier this year. Photo by Tomer Appelbaum
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Cabinet ministers are expected to approve a 2% across-the-board cut in order to free up NIS 630 million to halt the influx of African labor migrants and refugees.

The proposal, drafted by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, does not spare the Defense Ministry. Since this is the ministry with the largest budget, it will also be contributing the most money to the project - NIS 283 million.

Another NIS 79 million will be coming out of the education budget, and NIS 14 million will be from the higher education budget, among others.

Several similar budget cuts have been discussed over the past several weeks: An across-the-board cut of NIS 1 billion to NIS 4 billion, or alternately a defense budget cut of up to NIS 3 billion, to help fund the recommendations of the Trajtenberg committee for social and economic reform. Defense Minister Ehud Barak has been lobbying hard against any cut to his ministry's budget.

If an across-the-board cut were to include the defense budget, this would run contrary to the Brodet committee recommendations, drafted after the Second Lebanon War, which explicitly called for exempting this ministry. So far, the government has followed that recommendation.

"The border with Egypt is one of peace. But it is also a porous one, and creates an opening to several threats from third parties, damaging enemy activity, criminally-motivated smuggling and infiltration by foreign citizens, mainly people from third-world countries looking to improve their financial wellbeing," the cabinet stated in its explanation for the move.

The money will be used in several ways. The largest portion - NIS 280 million - will be given to the Defense Ministry to speed up the construction of the 240-kilometer border fence. While the fence was originally scheduled to be completed by mid-2013, the extra funds should move up completion to September 2012.

Another NIS 250 million will be used to expand the holding facilities for infiltrators from the current 2,000 beds to 5,400 beds. This would enable it to hold labor migrants for 60 days, as is permitted by law, up from the current two weeks.

The government is also planning to change the law to enable detaining labor migrants for up to three years.

The final NIS 100 million will be used to cover the cost of holding the detainees.

African migrants began infiltrating from the Egyptian border in 2006, and the large majority of them are labor migrants, not refugees, said sources from the Prime Minister's Office yesterday.

According to the draft plan, since 2006, 45,000 labor migrants have crossed the border; 14,000 came this year alone. So far, the state has spent NIS 1.5 billion to address the problem, including NIS 1.35 billion on the border fence, which is being funded jointly by the Finance Ministry and the Defense Ministry.