Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday that the "phenomenon of illegal infiltrators from Africa is extremely serious and threatens Israel's social fabric and national security. He made the comments at a cabinet meeting, adding that "if we don't stop the problem, 60,000 infiltrators are liable to become 600,000, and cause the negation of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state."

Netanyahu also praised the border fence that is being built in the south as a means of preventing infiltrations, but added that it is also important "to physically remove the infiltrators. We must crack down and mete out tougher punishments."

Five groups that aid African migrants sent a letter to Netanyahu on Sunday, asking that he "immediately order the granting of work permits to asylum-seekers in Israel." The letter stated that the current situation is forcing migrants to seek shelter in poorer neighborhoods, exacerbating the problems there. "The situation has become intolerable," they wrote.

Interior Minister Eli Yishai echoed the sentiment expressed by the prime minister, and reiterated his own message last week, when he said that most African migrants are criminals and that all, "without exception," should be arrested and deported.

On Sunday, Yishai said he is not responsible for asylum-seekers from war-torn countries whose lives might be at risk if deported back to those countries, because "as it is, there are millions more who might be murdered.

"I'm not responsible for what goes on in Eritrea and Sudan - the United Nations is," Yishai told Army Radio on Sunday. "There are millions there who, God forbid, might be murdered. Should we open our gates to all of them?"

Yishai also lashed out in response to Police Commissioner Yohanan Danino's suggestion that allowing asylum-seekers to work while they're in Israel would help fight crime.

"I'm sick of people, particularly politicians, trying to prettify the situation," he said, saying such remarks come from people unfamiliar with the reality.

"All these stupidities will bring us the births of hundreds of people and we can bury the Zionist dream," he said. "Jobs will just root them here ... and this suggestion will only bring hundreds of thousands more here."

The United Nations High Commission for Refugees refutes Yishai's claim that "only a fraction of [the migrants] are defined as refugees, and whoever is designated a refugee gets [residency] status." UNHCR says that between 40,000-45,000 asylum-seekers here are from Eritrea, 15,000 are from Sudan and another 6,000 are from other countries to which repatriation isn't currently possible.

"This population is living here legally," said Sharon Harel of the UNHCR. "They have legal protection because they cannot return, and are living here until the danger passes. And for as long as they are here, they, like all human beings, need access to basic services and jobs."