Saturday, 20 January, 2018

Netanyahu defies Pope Francis: Gives African migrants exit ultimatum

African migrants gather during a protest in Lewinsky park in Tel Aviv African migrants gather during a protest in Lewinsky park in Tel Aviv
Melinda Barton | 12 January, 2018, 18:50

During a cabinet meeting on Wednesday Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that the implementation of a plan, which will make illegal migrants leave the country, would get underway later in the day.

Before Israel completed a barrier along its border with Egypt in 2013, about 60,000 African migrants - mostly from Sudan and Eritrea - crossed the desert frontier and settled in the Tel Aviv area.

Human rights groups are criticizing the Israeli government's deportation plan, arguing that third countries like Rwanda and Uganda are not safe destinations for the migrants.

The vast majority came from Eritrea and Sudan and many said they fled war and persecution as well as economic hardship, but Israel treats them as economic migrants.

According to an unnamed immigration official, there are some 38,000 illegal migrants living in Israel and close to 1,500 in two detention centers.

Those who cooperate and leave by the end of March will receive $3,500, along with airfare and other incentives, as reported by multiple outlets. We have no such agreement with the government of Israel to send refugees here, Okello Oryem indicated in statements published today in the national press.

Children, the elderly and victims of human trafficking are exempt from the action.

Netanyahu, who has in the past blamed migrants as posing a threat to Israel's social fabric and Jewish character, on Wednesday moved to reassure Israeli residents in the poorer neighbourhoods of Tel Aviv where migrants live that there would be a return to safety and security.

The Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported in October that Netanyahu signed a deal with Rwandan President Paul Kagame at the U.N.in September to deport African migrants from Israel to Rwanda. "Israel has a painful history of migration and exile", Filippo Grandi said.

Haaretz, an Israeli newspaper reported in August past year that Israel's top court ruled that African asylum seekers can be deported to Rwanda and Uganda.

They will be offered a $3,500 financial stipend as well as an air ticket to "third countries", reportedly including Rwanda and Uganda, in case it is too unsafe to return to their home countries. "The expulsion to Rwanda endangers the very lives of these refugees", the organizations said. The government now considers most of the "infiltrators" to be economic migrants. The letter follows reports showing that the country will send migrants who agree to "self-deport" to Rwanda.