Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urged his Cabinet on November 28 to approve construction of a massive detention facility to hold thousands of Africans who have slipped illegally through the porous southern border with Egypt.

The proposal, which the Cabinet is expected to approve later that day has fuelled an already heated debate in Israel over how to handle the swelling influx of migrants.

Critics charge that the facility, which is to be set up within six months and run by the prisons service, would become a squalid refugee camp. The Cabinet minister-in-charge of prisons said correctional authorities were ill-equipped to run the facility, which will be designed to hold up to 10,000 detainees.

But other officials said Israel cannot allow tens of thousands of economic migrants to enter illegally each year, take jobs from unskilled Israelis and, if permitted to enter without restriction, dilute the country's Jewish character.

Mr. Netanyahu told his Cabinet before the vote that the centre is part of a multi-pronged approach that includes the construction of a barrier along the thinly patrolled areas of the 130-mile (220-km) Israeli-Egyptian border, which began last week, and heavy fines on people who employ illegal workers.

According to figures the government prepared before the Cabinet vote, about 13,000 illegal migrants from Africa are expected to enter Israel by the end of the year, joining more than 20,000 others who came between 2006 and 2009.


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