Fence marking border between Egypt and Israel.
Fence marking border between Egypt and Israel. Photo by Archive
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Israel is renewing its offer to pay African and Western countries that will take in migrant workers who arrived in Israel illegally, a senior government official told Haaretz. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu apparently instructed the Foreign Ministry yesterday to renew negotiations to this effect.

According to the senior official, the Foreign Ministry has already held a round of talks with African nations who maintain diplomatic ties with Israel as well as with several other states. Most countries declined the offer unequivocally, while those that did agree to absorb such migrant workers stipulated to far lesser numbers than desired by the Israeli government.

Netanyahu also demanded that the security establishment immediately begin setting up a barrier along the Israeli-Egyptian border. The project had been due to start in July, but was delayed for over three months due to budget disputes.

"The problem of infiltrators crossing the southern border into Israel threatens Israel's Jewish and democratic character," the prime minister said.

The Association for Civil Rights in Israel and the Hotline for Migrant Workers issued the following joint statement: "Netanyahu's proposal demonstrates a particularly short memory. The prime minister must learn to distinguish between refugees and asylum seekers trying to escape war and danger in their home countries, and migrant workers who only seek to better their lives. Many of those crossing the Egyptian border into Israel are asylum seekers, escaping atrocities in their own land."

"A state set up by refugees itself cannot turn its back on war refugees seeking asylum," the statement read.

Fewer than 200 asylum seekers have reportedly been granted refugee status in Israel. In 2008, Israel recognized the asylum claim of just one refugee, and in 2009 only two.