Israel scraps plan to send African migrants to West
Israel’s prime minister has cancelled a deal with the UN to relocate African migrants living in the country, a day after agreeing to the arrangement.
Benjamin Netanyahu said he had taken the decision after consulting residents of south Tel Aviv, where many of the migrants live.
He said he would now consider “all options… to remove the infiltrators”.
The fate of more than 30,000 migrants, who entered the country illegally, has long been a hugely contentious issue.
Under the plan with the UN’s refugee agency, Israel would have given residency to half of them, in exchange for Western nations resettling the other half.
However, the arrangement had drawn opposition from within his governing coalition.
It replaced an earlier controversial plan for mass deportations to third-party countries in Africa if individuals did not go voluntarily. This had been suspended by Israel’s Supreme Court.
Under the five-year agreement with the UN refugee agency, some 16,250 African migrants who entered the country illegally, many of them seeking asylum, would be resettled in Western nations, which Mr Netanyahu had said included Germany, Italy and Canada.
For each migrant resettled overseas, Israel would give “temporary residence” to a migrant in Israel.
Mr Netanyahu said that agreement had failed because Rwanda had pulled out.
The prime minister had faced criticism over the UN deal from anti-migrant groups and powerful politicians in his own governing coalition.
Naftali Bennett, head of the Jewish Home party, called the UN plan a “total surrender to the false campaign in the media” and said the credibility of the government was at stake.
Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked was among ministers saying they did not know anything about the agreement before it was announced. Culture Minister Miri Regev expressed concern about the “identity and social fabric” of Israel if the migrants were allowed to stay, according to the Jerusalem Post.
Where are the migrants from?
Most of the African migrants in Israel are from Eritrea – a one-party state whose leaders have been accused of crimes against humanity by a UN inquiry – and war-torn Sudan.
They say they fled danger at home and that it is not safe to return to another African country, but Israel considers the majority of African asylum seekers to be economic migrants.
Most of them entered from Egypt several years ago, before a new fence was built along the desert border. This has ended most illegal crossings.
How controversial is this issue?
A decision in January to offer the migrants a cash lump-sum and a plane ticket to leave Israel voluntarily or otherwise face forced expulsion was controversial in Israel.
Some critics in the country and among the Jewish community abroad – including former ambassadors and Holocaust survivors – said the plan was unethical and a stain on Israel’s international image. The UN refugee agency said it violated local and international laws, and large protests were held in Israel.
Mr Netanyahu said the opposition was “baseless and absurd” and that Israel would resettle “genuine refugees”.
Activists, however, noted that only a handful of Eritreans and Sudanese had been recognised as refugees by Israel since the country took over the processing of applications from the UN in 2009.