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96 African migrants detained entering Israel

96 Africans are arrested after they hit Eilat, Israel’s border town, looking for work, food and water after wandering for four days through Egypt's Sinai desert

AFP , Wednesday 18 May 2011
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Israeli authorities on Wednesday arrested nearly 100 migrants from Africa who illegally entered the country by crossing the border with Egypt near Eilat, the city's mayor said.

“At least 96 African workers coming from Egypt infiltrated here today and knocked on doors asking for work, bread and water," Meir Yitzhak Halevy told Israeli public radio.

"They were arrested by the police, but this massive intrusion in a single day shows the chaos here and that the authorities have left us abandoned in the face of this phenomenon of illegal immigration," he said.

"They could have been terrorists," he added.

The migrants wandered for more than four days in Egypt's Sinai desert before arriving, exhausted, in the Red Sea resort town of Eilat, Israeli news site Ynet reported.

The Eilat municipality says more than 2,600 African migrants have illegally entered Israel this year, including 500 since the beginning of May alone.

In November, Israel began building a security barrier along its border with Egypt to stem the flow of economic migrants and refugees and stop the trafficking of weapons and drugs.

The Israel-Egypt border has become a major transit route for economic migrants, asylum-seekers and drug-smugglers, and Israel has urged Egypt to clamp down on the traffic.

Egyptian border guards often shoot at African migrants who pay smugglers for passage into the Jewish state to escape poverty and look for work, and many have been killed.

The 250-kilometre (155-mile) border fence is expected to cost $365 million (257 million EUROS) and will comprise various unspecified technological measures.

Israel has also approved the creation of a detention centre to house the thousands of illegal immigrants who have entered in recent years.

Officials said the facility was envisaged as a transit camp to accommodate the migrants until they could be sent home or to a third country.

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