Israel suspends controversial plan to send African migrants West
03 April, 2018, 04:44 | Author: Chad Mckenzie
Israel says it has reached a deal with the United Nations refugee agency to cancel the plan to deport thousands of African refugees.
The agreement between the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and Israel, was to have around 16,000 Sudanese and Eritrean migrants relocated to "receiving countries" using resettlement, private sponsorships, and scholarships.
The issue has pitted right-wing nationalists, who argue that the presence of Christian and Muslim immigrants as a threat to the country's identity as a Jewish state, against progressives and Holocaust survivors who say Israel's history means it ought to take in refugees fleeing conflict and starvation.
Israel had announced a deal with the UNHCR to cancel a controversial plan to deport African migrants and replace it with one that would see thousands sent to Western countries.
The BBC is reporting that hours after announcing the deal, Netanyahu put the plan on hold, saying he would meet with residents of south Tel Aviv, where numerous migrants live.
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Numerous migrants say they came to Israel to seek asylum after fleeing persecution, conflict, and in the case of Eritreans, forced, lifelong conscription to its army, but Israeli authorities regard them as economic migrants.
The Supreme Court froze the deportations in mid-March in response to a petition.
Netanyahu named Germany, Italy and Canada as examples of countries that would accept the migrants, though German and Italian officials said they had no knowledge of any such agreement.
The government also pledged to allocate money to rehabilitate Tel Aviv neighborhoods where the Africans are concentrated and encourage many of them to move to other parts of the country. Asylum seekers previously deported to Uganda and Rwanda have told the Times of Israel they faced serious danger and even imprisonment after arriving in Africa without proper documents.
"The joint commitment is that "You take out 16,250 and we will leave 16,250 as temporary residents". The government erected a barrier along the border with Egypt that stopped the migration.
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.
The deal announced by Netanyahu's office appeared to end the possibility that many would be forcibly deported. Others who had submitted asylum requests before January 1 were released pending a decision.
"We have been monitoring this situation closely and as was reported last month we have been in direct contact with the Government of Israel and we reached an arrangement with Israeli authorities to suspend the deportation and detention of individuals who have private sponsorship (PSR) applications for Canada until the processing of their case has been completed", Jaswal said in the emailed statement.
A man originally from Eritrea stands outside an Israeli immigration office, holding a document giving him 60 days to leave Israel or face imprisonment.
Only a handful of asylum claims have been approved in recent years.
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