Netanyahu: Migrant Workers Risk Israel's Jewish Character

PM's comments come as police say Egypt gang abducted Africans for ransom on Israel border.

Migrant workers infiltrating through the border with Egypt are jeopardizing Israel's Jewish and democratic nature, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Thursday, adding that those workers were also causing salaries in the country to drop to "third world" rates.

Earlier this month, Netanyahu reportedly ordered the construction of a fence along portions of Israel's border with Egypt at a cost of NIS 1.5 billion, in an attempt to stem the infiltration of migrant workers as well as of terrorist elements into Israel.

Netanyahu's comments came just as released gag order revealed Thursday that special Israel Police investigations unit arrested an Ethiopian citizen and two Eritrean citizens suspected of collaborating with Egyptian gangs in kidnapping African refugees who tried to infiltrate the border with Israel.

The gangs allegedly extorted the families of the African citizens and asked for a ransom in exchange for their release.

A special unit has been conducting the investigation in recent months in which the gangs were discovered to be working with collaborators inside Israel.

Netanyahu, speaking earlier in front of the Manufacturers Association of Israel on Thursday, said that in addition to erecting a fence along the border with Egypt, the government would also work to encourage local employment, also within the Haredi community, and to increase enforcement against importers of illegal immigrant workers.

Netanyahu added that he would work towards having the barrier approved by the government.

"The goal is to ensure Israel's Jewish and democratic nature, the premier said, adding that while Israel would continue to welcome "refugees from war-stricken countries, we will not let thousands of foreign workers flood the country."

According to police reports on Thursday, Egyptian gangs allegedly detained African refugees who tried to cross the Sinai border into Israel and reportedly tortured their hostages and held them in poor physical conditions.

The gangs allegedly forced the hostages to contact their family members in Israel in order to get ransom money for the Africans' release and transfer into Israel.

In the end of November an Eritrean man told police that two months prior, his cousin, who was trying to cross into Israel, called him and told him that he was being held in Sinai and he would only be released for a ransom.

The police investigation found that the man who is supposed to receive the ransom money in Israel was reportedly an Eritrean citizen named Nagasi Habati. Police also uncovered that the money transfer is set to be conducted through an Ethiopian man residing in Israel named Fatawi Mahari.

Police received a similar complaint in September, where an Ethiopian claimed his cousin was being held hostage in Egypt and Mahari was again the contact for transferring the money to the abductors in Sinai. A man named Mohammad Ibrahim was also named a collaborator, and when police arrested him they found $50,000 in his home. Police later arrested Mahari and Nagasi in a Jerusalem apartment and found a sum of $100,000 in their possession.

Testimonies by other refugees who were held in Sinai also linked both Nagasi and Ibrahim as full accomplices in the extortion by the Egyptian kidnappers.

Nagasi, Ibrahim, and Mahari underwent extensive investigation by the police's special unit and an indictment was served against Nagasi Habati. All three African men were detained until the end of police proceedings.

Thousands of Africans and other migrants have come to Israel through its porous border with Egypt over the last few years, prompting the PM's decision to erect two fence segments: one near the southern city of Eilat, and another near Israel's and Egypt's barrier border with the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip.