Refugees Tel Aviv 0ct 2010 Natan Dvir
Asylum seekers in Tel Aviv displaying their UN refugee registration cards. Photo by Natan Dvir
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The number of asylum seekers crossing into Israel from Egypt has sharply dropped during the month of January, according to data collected by the defense system.

In the last months of 2010, an average of one thousand asylum seekers entered Israel in any given month, but in the month of January, data shows that only 400 asylum seekers entered Israel.

The reason for the drop in numbers is partly explained by the acceleration of construction work on a fence on the border with Egypt. Moreover, Israel Defense Forces soldiers and border guards have increased deployment in the area, especially in places known as passages for asylum seekers.

Ministry of Defense Director General Udi Shani, who toured the site of the fence construction on Tuesday, said that due to the acceleration of construction work, the fence is expected to be finished by the end of 2012.

Despite Shani's claim that the low figures have no relation to the unrest in Egypt, Prime Minsiter Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak gave instructions to accelerate the construction of the fence on the Egyptian border due to the crisis in Egypt.

The journey that asylum seekers undertake while trying to cross the border has been widely reported on recently. In December of 2010, Physicians for Human Rights published a report saying that 220 asylum seekers were being subjected to torture and rape while being held captive by smugglers in Sinai.

The report comes around the same time that the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees released a statement saying it was seriously concerned for the lives of the asylum seekers in the Sinai.

In September, Haaretz reported similar testimony from asylum seekers who were held captive in Sinai and only released after paying ransom.