Interior Minister Eli Yishai on Tuesday lashed out again at the people he calls "infiltrators," saying they are not refugees and that they come to Israel solely to seek employment.
Addressing an audience at the Negev Conference in Beersheba, Yishai said, "There are many bleeding hearts in Israel. I would suggest that those who condemn me, some of whom reside in [the upscale neighborhood of] Ramat Aviv Gimel, bring migrant workers to their homes for a few weeks. Then they will understand how right I am."
"Israel cannot allow itself to destroy its Zionist enterprise," Yishai continued. "Let's not mess around, they are not refugees, they came here to work. Only the combination of a security fence and prison will restore a sense of personal safety to the citizens of Israel. At this point, we can't repatriate Eritreans because we don't have an agreement with Eritrea, which is why I have asked Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to work to achieve such an agreement," Yishai said.
Yishai also said Israel should jail all citizens of South Sudan who illegally entered Israel until a decision is made — at the end of this month — on whether to deport them.
According to Yishai, "We must use harsh penalties against employers who employ migrant workers. Around 99 percent of those described as refugees are actually here only for employment. We must not, as a state and a government, compromise on this issue. We hear about mothers who fear for their daughters when they return home."
Before attending the conference, Yishai visited a detention center for migrant workers run by the Immigration Authority in the Omer industrial area in the Negev. There, Yishai said, "If it were up to me, in less than a year not even a single migrant worker would remain in Israel."
Yishai also had harsh words for Police Commissioner Insp. Gen. Yohanan Danino, who had advocated allowing migrants to work legally in Israel. "The message that Israel must allow migrant workers to work here is atrocious," Yishai said. "This means that another million people will soon arrive here."
The migrant worker issue in Israel has recently been highlighted by several brutal attacks on civilians said to have been perpetrated by migrants residing in south Tel Aviv.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, has called the swelling number of illegal migrants a "national scourge."
Migrant advocates contend that many Africans crossing into Israel are refugees who should be granted asylum. They accuse the government of ignoring the retribution most of the migrants face should they return home.
The influx has touched off a national debate, with some Israelis calling the migrants an economic and social burden and fearing their mounting numbers will dilute Israel's Jewish character, while others say that the Jewish people, because of their history of persecution, should be especially accommodating of others fleeing persecution or conflict.