Israel reaches deal with UN to send nearly half of African asylum seekers to Western countries

Thousands of African asylum seekers and human rights activists at a separate protest in Tel Aviv, Feb. 21, 2018. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

JTA

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israel has reached an agreement with the United Nations which will see nearly half of the African asylum seekers it planned to deport go to Western countries.

The U.N. High Commission for Refugees has committed to finding places in Western nations for at least 16,250 of the African migrants from Eritrea and Sudan. In return, Israel will legalize the status of the remaining asylum seekers, according to Israeli media reports.

There reportedly are up to 39,000 illegal immigrants from Africa currently living in Israel, about 5,000 of them children.

The new plan reportedly will take up to five years to implement, and will include a plan to improve the living conditions in southern Israel, as well as redistributing the African population throughout Israel.

Israel had been scheduled to begin deporting the migrants next week, under a plan and budget approved by the country’s Cabinet in January. Israel’s Supreme Court had frozen the deportations in mid-March after a petition filed by opponents, and had been waiting for the government to respond to the petition.

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According to the government plan, migrants who had chosen to leave by March 31 would receive a payment of $3,500 as well as free airfare and other incentives.

Rwanda, and possibly Uganda, were believed to have been the destination countries, according to reports, which also say that the migrants’ rights have been violated in the third country.

The Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement to Israeli media that the original mass deportation plan was cancelled “because of legal considerations and political difficulties on behalf of third-party countries.” The new arrangement has been approved by Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit and meets the standard of international law, according to the reports. The statement reportedly also said that the new arrangement means more immigrants will leave the country than under the previous plan.