IDF soldier with Sudanese refugees, Negev
IDF soldier with Sudanese refugees, NegevIsrael News Photo: (file)

Residents of the northern Negev city of Arad told Knesset Member Uri Ariel (National Union) on Sunday that the dramatically increasing population of legal and illegal refugees in the city was "making their lives miserable." Illegal immigration to Israel has increased by approximately 1,000 percent in just three years, with over 7,500 people known to have entered Israel illicitly in 2008.

MK Ariel proposed that the newly formed Oz Immigration Authority, which is in the midst of a nationwide crackdown on illegal migrant workers, concentrate its efforts on Arad as well. Some elements of Israeli society, however, oppose the Oz campaign, saying it forces refugees back into the life-threatening situations from which they may have come.

Police figures show that the illegal migrant workers in the nation's south are primarily from Eritrea, indicating a primarily economic motive, as well as from Somalia and other African states. Legally recognized refugees who have arrived in previous years, on the other hand, include significant numbers of Sudanese who fled the Arab-Muslim genocide of non-Muslims and Muslim Blacks in Darfur. Some of the latter, however, may not be authentic refugees and may even include some perpetrators of the massacres seeking new lives elsewhere.

A refugee falls asleep during a celebration of World Refugee Day in Tel Aviv, June 19, 2009 (Israel news photo: Flash 90)

Both legal and illegal migrants have been a source of increasing crime and violence in Arad, with many veteran residents claiming that it is no longer safe to walk through the center of town at night. The nearly 2,000 Africans have also found themselves in economic competition with local Bedouin tribes in the labor market, which has sometimes spilled into violent clashes between the two groups. Eilat and the Dead Sea area are also faced with the issue of crime by migrants.

One reason the phenomenon is largely confined to the southern region is the Israeli policy of keeping migrants from settling north of Gedera, in the highly populated coastal plain (referred to as the area from "Gedera to Hadera"). An Arad citizen's group has recently been founded with the aim of pressuring the government to distribute the burden of the African refugees equally. As of 2009, more than 100 children of African refugees have been absorbed into Arad public schools, and the municipality provides their families needed health and welfare services.

World Refugee Day in Tel Aviv (Israel news photo: Flash 90)

The Arad citizens' advocacy group is in favor of tightening law enforcement initiatives to find and expel illegal migrant workers. The illegals have no health care, no welfare and are often without permanent housing, leading to crime, vandalism, drunkenness and loitering.

Anger over the situation has led growing numbers of Arad residents to consider leaving the city. Two new churches were built in recent years as migrants hooked up with local missionary and Christian groups. This, as one Arad resident told Israel National News, in a city that did not have a single church despite the large percentage of non-Jewish Russian immigrants.

In addition to the economic impact and the increasing crime rate, residents of the south have raised the potential for a security threat stemming from the Muslim migrants. There is a danger of some of them becoming radicalized, as well as the possibility that jihadists have already made their way into Israel under cover of economic or political migration.

In response to the increasing infiltrations from Africa, IDF troops are taking more swift measures to apprehend and immediately expel those found illegally crossing the Israeli frontier with Egypt.