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Israel clamps down on 'infiltrators' seeking work

By the CNN Wire Staff
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, shown earlier this month, says the immigrant influx "threatens Israelis' jobs."
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, shown earlier this month, says the immigrant influx "threatens Israelis' jobs."
  • Israel will house them in a detention center until they can be deported
  • Construction began this month on a barrier along Israel's southern border
  • It will be part fence and part surveillance technology
  • The barrier, announced in January, will take several years to complete

Jerusalem (CNN) -- Israel will build a detention center to house immigrants who enter the country illegally and cannot be deported, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced Sunday.

The plan is to "significantly reduce the economic incentive for them to arrive in Israel," Netanyahu said after the Cabinet approved the plan Sunday.

The "wave" of immigration "threatens Israelis' jobs [and] is changing the character of the country," he said.

The center will give "infiltrators" -- as Netanyahu called them -- shelter, food, drink and health care. The country plans to deport those whom it can, he said.

The resolution comes only days after Israel started building a barrier along its border with Egypt. The Israeli government says it is to prevent immigrants from crossing into the country illegally and to stop smuggling.

Israel also plans "very heavy fines on those who employ illegal workers," Netanyahu said Sunday.

The 240-kilometer-long, $370 million barrier will be part fence and part surveillance technology. Netanyahu announced the project in January. "This is a strategic decision to ensure the Jewish and democratic character of the state of Israel," he said.

The Israeli military estimates around 5,000 infiltrators entered Israel over the past year as well as 1.3 tonnes of hash and 130 kilograms of heroin. Israeli human rights group Hotline for Migrant Workers estimates 90 percent of those crossing the border illegally are refugees from northern Africa. The rest are thought to be migrant workers or traffickers of drugs and women.

The barrier could take several years to build across some difficult terrain. Israel's former ambassador to Egypt, Eli Shaked, told CNN there is nothing political about the decision to build it. "It is a necessity. It had to be done a long time ago. It is not something directed at Egypt," he said.

Israel has already built a controversial barrier separating the West Bank from Israel. Construction started in 2002 in an attempt to stem the tide of Palestinian suicide bombing attacks during the course of the second intifada, which began in September 2000. Palestinians claim it is a land grab and has separated farmers from their lands and sometimes families from each other. The United Nations says 80 percent of it is built on Palestinian land.

CNN's Paula Hancocks and Shira Medding contributed to this report.