TEL AVIV – Israel is in talks with the United Nations High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR) to relocate a percentage of African migrants to third countries deemed “safe” by the UN, with some of them to remain in Israel permanently.
The discussions come on the heels of deportation notices sent to more than half of Israel’s 38,000 illegal African migrants, informing them that they have 60 days to leave the country to a third African country, most likely Rwanda and Uganda.
“Such an arrangement could be realized, though the necessary details need to be worked out,” the Times of Israel quoted Sharon Harel, the external relations officer at the UNHCR office in Israel, as saying.
She did not mention which countries would take in the migrants but the report said it could be Western countries such as the U.S. and Canada. There was also no mention as to what portion of the migrants would remain in Israel.
According to the report, if the deal is struck it would halt the current deportation campaign.
“We would see such an arrangement as a win-win for the refugees as well as the State of Israel,” said Harel.
On Sunday, Israel began issuing deportation notices. The notice said that illegal migrants who leave of their own will are eligible for a $3,500 grant in addition to an entry visa for the third country.
Recipients of the deportation notice will also be granted a hearing wherein they may present their case within seven days of receiving the letter.
The Interior Ministry said a minimum of 300 African migrants per month over the next three years will be deported.
On Monday, Netanyahu slammed the backlash against the move as “slander” and a “campaign of lies.”
“International law places obligations on countries and it also gives them rights. There is an obligation to accept refugees, and we accept refugees,” he said, “but international law also gives the right to a country to remove from its borders illegal migrants. We have no obligation to allow illegal labor migrants who are not refugees to remain here.”
Netanyahu also claimed that George Soros was funding protests against the deportations, a claim denied by Soros. One of the most vocal opponents to the plan is the African Refugee Development Center, who said the ministry’s decision was a stain on Israel’s record that would last for generations. The Center is financed by the New Israel Fund, a radical Soros-funded NGO.
On Wednesday, thousands of asylum seekers protested in front of the Rwandan embassy.
In an oped in the New York Times on Wednesday, activist Rabbi Susan Silverman first revealed details of the deal between the UNHCR and Israel. The head of the Israel Sanctuary Initiative, Silverman urges people to hide Africans that are facing deportations in their home. According to Silverman, the UNHCR could relocate up to half of Israel’s migrants in safe countries. “Our prime minister,” she wrote, “is on the wrong side of the Exodus story.” However, if Netanyahu agrees to cooperate with the UNHCR, it “would provide the prime minister with a domestic political victory and a legacy lifeline,” she wrote.
Meanwhile, many residents of South Tel Aviv, where a large number of the illegal migrants have made their home, are hoping that the campaign will go ahead.
Anat Perez, a 25-year resident of Neve Shaanan who is also part of the Central Bus Station Neighborhood Watch group, told the Times of Israel that she was angry by all claims that she and other activists who support the deportations are racists or Nazis.
“I think if they are deported, things will get better for us,” said Perez.
“They [who oppose us] can’t judge us, they need to deal with South Tel Aviv’s Israeli residents with more respect. They don’t understand the problems,” she said.
On Wednesday, a poll found that two-thirds of Israelis support the deportation campaign.