Is­rael can­cels plan to de­port African refugees

Arab News - - INTERNATIONAL -

Is­rael an­nounced Mon­day it had reached a deal with the UN refugee agency to can­cel a con­tro­ver­sial plan to de­port African mi­grants and re­place it with a new one that will see thou­sands sent to Western coun­tries.

A min­i­mum of 16,250 mi­grants will be re­set­tled in un­spec­i­fied Western na­tions un­der the agree­ment an­nounced in a state­ment from Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu’s of­fice.

Ne­tanyahu in Jan­uary an­nounced the im­ple­men­ta­tion of a pro­gram to re­move mi­grants who en­tered il­le­gally, giv­ing them a choice be­tween leav­ing vol­un­tar­ily or fac­ing in­def­i­nite im­pris­on­ment with even­tual forced ex­pul­sion.

Ac­cord­ing to In­te­rior Min­istry fig­ures, there are cur­rently some 42,000 African mi­grants in Is­rael, half of them chil­dren, women or men with fam­i­lies, who were not fac­ing im­me­di­ate de­por­ta­tion. They are mainly Su­danese and Eritrean.

As the mi­grants could face dan­ger or im­pris­on­ment if re­turned to their home­lands, Is­rael of­fered to re­lo­cate them to an un­named African coun­try, which de­por­tees and aid work­ers said was Rwanda or Uganda.

They had ini­tially been given a dead­line of April 1, but Is­rael’s supreme court sus­pended the plan on March 15 while it con­tin­ued to ex­am­ine it.

The state­ment on Mon­day said the new plan meant there was no longer a need to send mi­grants to un­named third coun­tries.

The plans had drawn sharp crit­i­cism from the UN refugee agency as well as from some Is­raelis and rights ac­tivists. The mi­grants’ pres­ence in Is­rael has be­come a po­lit­i­cal is­sue, with Ne­tanyahu re­fer­ring to them as “not refugees but il­le­gal in­fil­tra­tors.”

Re­li­gious and con­ser­va­tive politi­cians have por­trayed the pres­ence of Mus­lim and Chris­tian Africans as a threat to Is­rael’s Jewish char­ac­ter.

A group of res­i­dents of south­ern Tel Aviv, where many of the mi­grants have set­tled, im­me­di­ately de­nounced the new plan in a state­ment, call­ing it “a shame for the state of Is­rael.”

Un­der the new five-year plan, Is­rael will “reg­u­late” the status of those not be­ing re­set­tled — sig­nalling they will be al­lowed to stay at least tem­po­rar­ily.

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