April 2 (UPI) — Israel announced Monday the cancellation of a policy by which it would deport African migrants to African countries — sending them instead to Western countries.
The Israeli government said it reached a deal to scrap the contentious plan after it met with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
About 38,000 migrants were originally given the option of indefinite imprisonment in Israel, or $3,500 and a plane ticket to their home countries — or to Rwanda or Uganda, countries with which Israel arranged an agreement to take migrants.
Most of the migrants are seeking asylum and currently live in camps near Tel Aviv while doing menial work in Israeli cities.
The plan was met with condemnation by most of Israel’s political factions. The UNHCR called the plan incoherent and unsafe.
Thousands demonstrated in Jerusalem in February to protest the government plan. Advocacy groups on behalf of the migrants, most from Sudan and Eritrea, challenged the order in Israel’s Supreme Court, which issued a temporary order on March 15 to freeze the process.
Under the new agreement, Western countries will accept about 16,000 migrants. Approximately 16,000 more will be offered an opportunity to remain in Israel for five more years.
The decision drew praise from many leaders across Israel’s political spectrum. Ayoub Kara of the right-wing Likud Party said the plan “proves what a good and efficient government Israel has.”
The center-left Zionist Union Party’s Miki Rosenthal called it “a civic struggle that succeeded.”
A statement from the leftist Meretz party said the government “has finally understood the need to absorb refugees. The international refugee crisis is real and serious.”