fence - Reuters - November 29 2010
Work beginning on a fence along the Egyptian border last week. Photo by Reuters
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The cabinet approved yesterday Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's proposal to establish a detention center in southern Israel for illegal labor migrants.

All the ministers voted for the proposal except Benny Begin, Avishay Braverman and Yitzhak Aharonovitch, who opposed it.

The proposal calls for a facility to hold illegal migrants who cannot be deported until their asylum requests have been rejected. It is unclear how the facility will operate and whether detainees will be able to come and go freely.

The center would be operated by the Prison Service.

The ministers ruled that a committee headed by the Defense Ministry director general would discuss the nature of the facility. It will submit its recommendations within 60 days.

Netanyahu opened the meeting by saying: "The wave of infiltrators must be stopped. The wave is increasing, and is threatening jobs. We will not stop war refugees, but we must stop the mass entry of infiltrators because of the very serious implications this has for the character of the state. As opposed to previous governments, this government is acting."

The prime minister also mentioned a fence being built along the Egyptian border and imposing heavy fines on employers who hire illegal migrants.

Netanyahu also said it was necessary to "create humane conditions" to give migrants housing, food and medical attention.

The approval of the plan yesterday raised hackles among aid groups.

"In light of the harsh conditions under which asylum-seekers are being held in Ketziot Prison, with small children being held in crowded tents with their mothers without proper conditions, it is unclear how Israel can establish a much larger facility without it immediately becoming a humanitarian disaster," said the Association of Civil Rights in Israel and the Hotline for Migrant Workers in a statement.

In response to Netanyahu's statement that Israel would not stop war refugees, the groups also said: "It is unclear how it will be determined who is a war refugee and who is not, when the state has yet to establish a system to differentiate between those who are war refugees and those who are not, and does not check asylum applications of Sudanese and Eritrean citizens."

Physicians for Human Rights said: "To incarcerate victims of torture, rape, war and murder without time limits, without judicial review and in contravention of international conventions for the protection of refugees will be a mark of Cain on the State of Israel."

Physicians for Human Rights said the plan would not only not stop refugees coming in from Sinai, it would worsen their physical and psychological health, and that the group "will do its utmost to have this unfortunate decision repealed."

Physicians for Human Rights called on the government to think seriously about humane solutions for refugees. "Israel has taken in millions of immigrants over the years using civil society organizations, and it must use its rich experience to seek solutions that conform to international conventions."