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Israel scraps plan to expel African migrants

FILE PHOTO:  African migrants demonstrate in the Israeli coastal city of Tel Aviv on April 03, 2018, against the Israeli government’s policy to forcibly deport African refugees.

Jerusalem, Undefined | AFP |  Israel announced on Tuesday it had abandoned plans to expel African migrants who entered the Jewish state illegally, after failing to find a country willing to host them.

The plan had targeted some 42,000 migrants of Eritrean and Sudanese origin currently living in Israel.

Government legal advisers informed the Supreme Court of the plan’s cancellation after certain unspecified countries refused to host the migrants, a government source said.

“At this stage, the possibility of removal to a third country is no longer relevant,” the advisers said in a statement.

Migrants and aid workers have said Israel was negotiating with Rwanda and Uganda to accept the deportees.

Following months of denials, Uganda had said earlier this month it was “positively considering” a proposal from Israel to accept hundreds of Africans the country wishes to deport.

Uganda’s junior refugees minister, Musa Ecweru, said Israel had requested that Uganda accept about 500 Eritrean and Sudanese migrants.

“The government (is)… positively considering the request,” he said in a statement.

Ecweru denied any suggestion of a financial motive for taking in the migrants.

Uganda’s motivation is “purely humanitarian” and “all refugees world over, are voluntarily repatriated” in “strict observance” of international law, Ecweru said.

Deportation plan criticised

The deportation plan has attracted a wave of criticism, including from the UN refugee agency, Holocaust survivors, and parts of Israeli civil society.

The government originally announced a plan under which it would present migrants with $3,500 (2,800 euros) and the opportunity to leave on their own accord, or face indefinite imprisonment with eventual forced expulsion.

In early April, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu agreed to cancel the plan, saying a new agreement with the UN would allow migrants to be transferred to “developed countries like Canada, Germany or Italy”.

But he cancelled that plan several hours later, after caving to pressure from his right-wing base.

Human rights groups have long condemned Israel for its immigration policy and treatment of Africans seeking asylum.

Most of the migrants arrived to Israel after 2007, mainly from the Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula.

Security along the once porous border has since been signficantly tightened.

Most of the migrants have settled in a number of poor neighbourhoods in the coastal city of Tel Aviv, the country’s economic capital.

Netanyahu’s plans

Netanyahu’s plans have for long  stirred up a political storm, given that some migrants come from Eritrea or Sudan, where rights experts point to a high risk of abuse or armed conflict.

Israel tacitly recognises the Sudanese and Eritreans cannot be returned to their dangerous homelands, which is why a third country was sought as a viable option.

Netanyahu has repeatedly referred to migrants from these countries as “not refugees but illegal infiltrators”. The United Nations has referred to the migrants as “people needing asylum”.

 

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