Netanyahu rejects calls to take in refugees

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.PHOTO: AFP

JERUSALEM • Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected calls for his country to take in some of the refugees streaming through the Middle East, citing the potential risks.

"Israel is not indifferent to the human tragedy of the refugees from Syria and Africa," he said at a Cabinet meeting held in Jerusalem on Sunday.

"But Israel is a small country, a very small country, that lacks demographic and geographic depth; therefore, we must control our borders against illegal migrants and terrorism."

Mr Netanyahu said Israel is discussing multilateral aid packages with other European governments aimed at helping African states "in order to deal with the problem at the source".

Israeli opposition leader Isaac Herzog stirred a heated national debate over the issue after he said on Saturday that "Jews cannot remain indifferent when hundreds of thousands of refugees are seeking safe harbour".

WHY BORDER CONTROLS MATTER

"Israel is not indifferent to the human tragedy of the refugees from Syria and Africa. But Israel is a small country, a very small country, that lacks demographic and geographic depth; therefore, we must control our borders against illegal migrants and terrorism."

ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, on risks of letting refugees in

Israel, a state of about 8 million people, has long been torn between the humanitarian demands of taking in non-Jews in need and its fears about maintaining its Jewish character and security in a hostile and increasingly chaotic region.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has called on Israel to allow Palestinians from refugee camps in neighbouring Syria enter the West Bank.

But Israeli Immigration Minister Zeev Elkin rejected any such possibility, describing it to Israel Radio as "a back door effort to carry out the Palestinian right of return".

Israel is still grappling with the presence of tens of thousands of African migrants and asylum seekers who surreptitiously crossed the border from Egypt in recent years.

It has halted the influx mostly by completing construction of a steel border fence that stretches from the southern resort town of Eilat to Gaza.

Having also built security fences on its frontiers with Lebanon and Syria, Israel said it is now moving ahead with a previously announced plan to build a fence along the border with Jordan.

Although Jordan and Israel have signed a peace treaty and that border has long been calm, Israel fears that it could become a vulnerable entry point for illegal migration and hostile infiltrations.

Mr Netanyahu said Israel would start by building the fence along a roughly 30km stretch from Eilat to Timna, where an airport is under construction.

BLOOMBERG, NEW YORK TIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 08, 2015, with the headline 'Netanyahu rejects calls to take in refugees'. Print Edition | Subscribe