Israel's dairy farmers on Sunday proposed a unique solution to the issue of African infiltrators. In a letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the farmers suggested a humanitarian and legal way to deal with the problem: Provide them with agricultural training and then send them home.
The issue of African infiltrators is very much on the Israeli agenda these days. Some 60,000 African migrants — and according to some estimates, up to 200,000 — fleeing authoritarian rule in Eritrea and clashes between neighboring Sudan and South Sudan have crossed illegally into Israel across its relatively porous desert border with Egypt. Half of them arrived in the past two years — more than 3,500 since January alone — and growing numbers of homeless migrants are camped out in Israeli city parks.
Meanwhile, Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman said on Monday that the government has been working full force to battle the problem of infiltrators and has been holding meetings to discuss ways to deport infiltrators to their countries of origin or to a third-party country.
Speaking at an Israel Bar Association conference in Eilat, the justice minster went on to say that completing the security fence along the Israel-Egypt border would help alleviate the situation. Neeman reiterated his position opposing the employment of infiltrators in Israel, and said that the detention center being built in the Negev would offer them basic needs, as stipulated by international law, until they are repatriated.
At the weekly cabinet meeting on Sunday, Netanyahu warned that "if we do not stop this, 60,000 infiltrators could become 600,000 and possibly even jeopardize Israel's continued existence as a Jewish democracy." Netanyahu said his government was taking a proactive approach and working to deport the illegal immigrants. While vowing to impose deterrent penalties, Netanyahu said he would address the immigrants' plight. "We are going to respond through action, not slogans," he said.
The dairy farmers' plan includes training the infiltrators on cattle farms, in animal pens and also other aspects of agriculture. The plan suggests that infiltrators participating in the program will work for a period of time, from half a year to a year, on an Israeli farm and then return to their home country. Those who refuse to participate in the program would be deported immediately. In this manner, a timetable is set for migrants to return to their native countries, but equipped with professional skills in agriculture.
"The native countries of these economic refugees have not been successful in developing agriculture and have failed to create independent food security," wrote Yaakov Bachar, head of the Israel Cattle Breeders Association. "The Israeli dairy industry is considered one of the best in the world. Israeli dairy farmers and other agriculture professionals are in high-demand as instructors."
The idea has already reached a number of officials in the Prime Minister's Office, who have expressed clear interest in the project.