Keeping Africans out: the ‘Israel-Egypt Barrier’

 In January, Israel completed the main segment of a razor-wire fence along its southern border with Egypt.

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The five-metre high barrier, estimated to have cost £240m, is bolstered by military surveillance equipment and has been built, Israel says, to deter illegal migrants, the smuggling of drugs and weapons and Islamist fighters hiding out in Egypt’s lawless Sinai region.

The final 14km section will be completed within the next two months, leaving the fence stretching from Israel’s Red Sea port of Eilat to the Gaza Strip on the Mediterranean. Construction took on heightened urgency with the fall of Hosni Mubarak’s regime in 2011 and was speeded up after an attack by militants in August 2012 in which eight Israelis were killed. Dozens of bulldozers were then brought in to work at some 50 sites along the border.

In the desert beyond, hardline Islamist groups have expanded in a security vacuum caused by the overthrow of Mubarak, with efforts to re-impose central authority proving slow.

Security and illegal immigration were a target of Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu’s re-election campaign, says Al Jazeera.  He travelled by military helicopter to the southern frontier for a ceremony on January 2nd marking the completion of the 230km section of fence. His government has deported some migrants and imposed legal penalties on Israelis who hire them without work permits.

Thirty-six migrants crossed illegally into Israel in December 2012 and were arrested, compared with 2,153 who entered a year before, Netanyahu’s office said in a statement. Israel portrays the vast majority of the migrants as illegal job-seekers. Humanitarian agencies say many of them should be considered for asylum.

More than 60,000 Africans have entered Israel on foot in recent years seeking work or refuge. They have stirred fears for public order and some have come under racially-motivated attack. The bulk are from Sudan or Eritrea and Israel’s ability to repatriate them is limited. Sudan’s government is hostile to Israel and Somalia is deemed a ravaged danger zone by refugee advocates. 

The fence is totally impenetrable.  The numbers tell the story says al-monitor: 242 km long, between five and seven meters high, 35,000 tons of metal and steel construction,10 million cubic meters of earth that was dug out and 10 million cubic meters of earth that was filled. Double-trailer 15-ton trucks exited and entered full of dirt, 1.5 million times: if they were placed in a straight line, the line would stretch about 9,000 km, more than twice the distance from Tel Aviv to London.

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