Illegal Immigrants in Ashkelon
Illegal Immigrants in AshkelonIsrael news photo: Flash 90

Ministry of Defense officials on Wednesday authorized plans to establish a detention center for illegal immigrants in southern Israel.

The center will cost NIS 250 million and is expected to begin receiving detainees within six months. Officials said, "emphasis will be placed on the maintenance of community life."

Because of that aim, the detention center will be built on the 'campus' model.  Separate areas and sections will allow the detainees to be housed with their respective communities, organized by place of origin, as well as religious affiliation.

It will also include classrooms, places of worship, community centers, medical centers, and outdoor recreation areas. Some critics say the plan reads more like a resort than temporary housing for future deportees.

The center will be built in stages. In the first stage, there will be space for three thousand detainees. At its peak, the facility will be able to hold up to eleven thousand. 

The majority of the structures will be mobile and/or collapsible so that in the future the various structures can be used in other national projects.

The first tender of NIS 80 million will be opened this week.

The center’s construction comes on the heels of an order from the Interior Ministry to the National Immigration Authority to prepare to return illegal Sudanese immigrants in Israel to their country of origin.

Israel is offering an assistance basket of 1,000 Euros per person for illegal immigrants from South Sudan who identify themselves and agree to be deported by 1 April.

However, after that date, NIA officials have been instructed to begin detaining and deporting illegal immigrants from South Sudan without assistance. Sources say illegal immigrants from other African countries will likely be offered a similar choice in the coming months.

Israel has been dealing with a growing wave of illegal immigration from war-torn and impoverished African countries in recent years, leading to concerns the constant influx will affect the demographic character of the Jewish state.

Most illegal immigrants travel all the way through Egypt and over the Sinai with the help of local Bedouin smugglers to reach Israel, leading officials in Jerusalem to demand Cairo step up security patrols to end the phenomenon.

Israeli officials are also speeding up construction of the Sinai border fence on Israel's frontier with Egypt, which is expected to be complete in late 2012.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu announced late last year he would be travelling to meet with leaders in Africa to arrange the return of illegal immigrants in Israel to their countries of origin.