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World View: Israel’s Government in Turmoil over Failure to Deport African Migrants

Israel cancels controversial plan to deport African migrants

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  • Israel’s government in turmoil over failure to deport African migrants
  • Netanyahu: We fell into a ‘trap’ with failed deportation plan

Israel’s government in turmoil over failure to deport African migrants

Asylum seekers in Tel Aviv, Israel, protest against deportation on 24-Feb (AP)
Asylum seekers in Tel Aviv, Israel, protest against deportation on 24-Feb (AP)

Israel’s government is in turmoil after a major policy for dealing with African migrants collapsed within a few hours.

On Monday morning, Israel’s prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced a major new policy for dealing with 16,250 of what it considers to be illegal immigrants from African nations, mostly Eritrea and Sudan.

The policy was reached as a deal with the UN Human Rights Council (UNHCR), the agency that handles issues with refugees and migrants. Under the deal between Israel and UNHCR, 16,250 African migrants under threat of being either jailed or deported to another African country, would instead be absorbed and resettled into a Western country. The deal also specifies that another 16,250 similarly threated migrants would be permitted to remain in Israel as “temporary residents.” According to UNHCR, Israel is home to about 40,000 asylum seekers, including 27,500 from Eritrea and 7,800 from Sudan. The deal left 7,000 unaccounted for.

Netanyahu originally said that the agreement was a “landmark achievement,” allowing 16,250 migrants to be taken to “developed countries like Canada, or Germany and Italy.”

Human rights organizations were pleased with the deal, since migrants would be resettled in Western countries. However, other officials objected to the fact that 16,250 migrants would be resettled in Israel. A city councilman in Tel Aviv, where many of the migrants would be resettled, called the agreement a “disaster that will reverberate for generations and cause irreversible damage to the country.”

A Canadian minister said that Canada was already in contact with UNHCR and Israel about accepting more refugees. However, Italy quickly issued a statement saying that they were not a part of this agreement and had not even been consulted. Germany issued a similar statement. The Prime Minister’s Office then clarified that Netanyahu had just named those countries as examples of Western countries.

By late Monday evening, Netanyahu wrote on Facebook that he was suspending implementation of the agreement for the time being. YNet News and Canadian TV and BBC and Haaretz

Netanyahu: We fell into a ‘trap’ with failed deportation plan

The previous deportation plan was announced in January. Each migrant would be given a choice to be jailed, or to receive a check for $3,500 and a plane ticket to another country. Migrants received the following letter in January:

We would like to inform you that the state of Israel has signed agreements allowing you to leave Israel for a safe third country that will absorb you and give you a residency visa that will allow you to work in that country, and promises not to remove you to your country of origin.

The “third safe countries” were not named, but they were known to be Rwanda and Uganda. The deadline to leave or be jailed was to be April 1.

According to a poll in late January, 66 percent of Jewish Israelis – and half of Arab Israelis, who make up 20 percent of Israel’s population – favored the deportation plan. However, the plan received a huge backlash from human rights organizations, both internationally and within Israel.

Due to international pressure, both Rwanda and Uganda announced that they would not take part in the deportation plan. On Monday, Netanyahu explained in a Facebook post why the whole plan had to be canceled:

In the past two years I have been working with Rwanda so that it will serve as a third country’ that absorbs infiltrators who will be deported without their consent. This is the only legal way for us to deport infiltrators without their consent, after the rest of our moves have been legally disqualified. Rwanda agreed to this and began the deportation operation.

In recent weeks, under tremendous pressure on Rwanda by the New Israel Fund and elements in the European Union, Rwanda withdrew from the agreement and has refused to absorb infiltrators from Israel who are forcibly removed.

From the moment that it became clear in the last few weeks that the third country as an option does not exist, we in effect entered a trap that meant all of them would stay.

Falling into this “trap” represented a danger to Israel, according to education minister Naftali Bennett:

[G]ranting legal status to 16,000 infiltrators will turn Israel into a paradise for infiltrators and is a surrender to the false campaign spread in the media in recent months.

The original outline was moral and just, and we must follow it, alone. Refugees from dangerous places will be absorbed in Israel, work migrants will be sent back. In the new plan, work migrants who didn’t even apply to be refugees will be absorbed. By signing this agreement, we are sending a dangerous message to the whole world: Whoever succeeds in infiltrating Israel illegally will get a prize of legal residence here or a Western country.

He added that that the government must “proceed to a new roadmap will remove the illegal infiltrators from Israel.” Reuters (3-Jan) and The Atlantic (30-Jan) and Al Jazeera (4-Feb) and Jerusalem Post

Related Articles:

KEYS: Generational Dynamics, Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, Eritrea, Sudan, Rwanda, Uganda, UN Human Rights Council, UNHCR, Canada, Italy, Germany, Naftali Bennett
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