Interior Minister Eli Yishai.
Interior Minister Eli Yishai. Photo by Alon Ron
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Interior Minister Eli Yishai announced Tuesday the formation of a special task force to deal with African migrants in Israel, saying it will "make sure Israel is free of infiltrators."

During the past few days, Yishai has been holding consultations with officials in the military, police, and the legal system, and studying different aspects of the issue. "I've placed the subject at the top of my priorities for the upcoming year, and I plan to do everything I can to resolve Israel's infiltrator problem."

The team has been assigned with the task of coming up with ways to stop the influx of African migrants, as well as expelling those illegally residing in Israel. Due to the urgency of the issue, Yishai assigned the task force a two-month deadline to present him with their findings. He plans to present these at an emergency government meeting.

The task force will be headed by Professor Arnon Soffer, a professor of geography and environmental studies and one of the founders of Haifa University. Soffer is a natural choice for Yishai as research he published in 2009 states that most African migrants in Israel are migrant workers, not refugees, views congruent with Yishai's own.

Other members assigned to the task force are Major General Yom Tov Samia, formerly Head of the IDF's Southern Command; Prof. Yochanan Shtessman of the Hadassah Medical Center in Jerusalem and formerly head of the National Insurance Institute; Sara Frisch, formerly a senior official in the State Attorney's Office and former head of the Shaarei Mishpat college; Major General Berty Ohayon formerly a senior police officer and head of the Population and Immigration Authority; Arye Sharabi a former judge; and Ron Roguin an attorney.

Israel has tried out a number of different strategies designed to curb the phenomenon of illegal immigration by African migrants since 2007, when the number of African migrants arriving in Israel spiked (to 5,000, as compared to 1,000 in 2006).

In that year, the Saharonim facility, a detention center for African migrants entering Israel through its border with Egypt, was opened. Migrants arriving at the facility went through a process of registration and identification, and given a medical exam.

If they could not be deported – under international law, people fleeing from certain African countries, including Sudan and Eritrea, cannot be sent back to their homelands – they were eventually released and given a one-way ticket to Tel Aviv.

In January of 2010, the state opened up a new front in its war against illegal migration when the government decided to build a fence along its border with Egypt. Eight months later, the Defense Ministry began to implement the decision.

The government is pinning great hopes on the fence, which will be 230 km long and is estimated to cost some NIS 1.3 billion.