Netanyahu addresses the Negev Conference in Dimona
Netanyahu addresses the Negev Conference in DimonaAmos Ben Gershom/GPO

Israel’s illegal immigration quandary, centering on the future of 40,000 infiltrators who snuck into Israel over the Egyptian border, would look very different had Israel not built a physical barrier along its frontier with Egypt, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said Tuesday.

Some 60,000 illegal immigrants – widely referred to as “infiltrators” in Israel – entered the Jewish state from 2005 to 2013, most of them citizens of Somalia, Sudan, and Eritrea. The wave of illegal immigration peaked in 2011, when close to 20,000 infiltrators entered the country.

In 2010, the Israeli government began construction of a 152-mile long border fence, spanning the entirety of the Israel-Egypt frontier, from Eilat in the south to Rafah [Rafiah] in the north.

Completed in December 2013, the barrier led to a massive reduction in the number of illegal crossings, with zero infiltrations in 2017.

Speaking at the Negev Conference in Dimona on Tuesday, Prime Minister Netanyahu hailed the border fence as a success, arguing that it has protected Israel from the rising threat of radical Islamist terrorism in the Sinai Peninsula, as well as a massive wave of illegal immigration.

"Israel is surrounded by outposts of radical Islam; therefore, we need to safeguard our borders,” said Netanyahu.

“We have completed a major endeavor: Building a fence along more than 200 kilometers of border with Sinai. Were it not for the fence, we would be faced with a broken trough – severe attacks by Sinai terrorists, and something much worse, a flood of illegal migrants from Africa.”

“We are talking about a Jewish and democratic state but how could we assure a Jewish and democratic state with 50,000 and then 100,000 and 150,000 migrants a year. After a million, 1.5 million, one could close up shop. But we have not closed down. We built a fence and at the same time, with concern for security needs, we are making a major investment in infrastructures."

Some 38,000 infiltrators who crossed over from the Sinai remain in Israel, not including children born after their arrival.

While the government has approved a deportation plan which would remove most of the 38,000 illegal immigrants to third-party states in Africa, the Supreme Court issued a temporary injunction against the plan last week.