JERUSALEM (JTA) – Israel’s Cabinet approved a plan and the budget to deport thousands of migrants from Sudan and Eritrea.
Prior to Wednesday’s approval, the Population and Immigration Authority in Israel notified migrants from Sudan and Eritrea that as of Jan. 1 they must return to their own countries, or to a third nation – either Rwanda or Uganda – or be sent to Holot Prison until they are deported.
Migrants who chose to leave by March 31 will receive a payment of $3,500 as well as free airfare and other incentives. Security in their home country or a third country has already been guaranteed through diplomatic channels.
“Every country must guard its borders,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at Wednesday’s meeting. “Guarding the borders against illegal infiltration is both a right and a fundamental obligation of a sovereign state.”
Netanyahu credited the building of a fence on Israel’s Sinai border with preventing “massive infiltration into the country from Africa.”
On Tuesday, the Population and Immigration Authority reported that no infiltrators entered Israel in 2017.
Netanyahu said that Israel has already deported 20,000 of the some 60,000 African migrants who entered Israel prior to the construction of the barrier.
“The mission now is to deport the rest,” he said. “Last year we deported approximately 4,000 and the major effort is to deport most of those who remain, who have infiltrated and are present in Israel illegally.”
Israel has granted asylum to fewer than one per cent of those who have applied and has a years-long backlog of applicants, Reuters reported.
Netanyahu said that several months ago, he and several senior ministers in two secret visits toured South Tel Aviv, where many of the illegal migrants live and hold down menial jobs, in order to gain a greater understanding of the situation.
“It is completely clear that one sees things as they are; that one sees the plight of the longtime residents,” the Israeli leader said. “We went up to their apartments, spoke with them and saw the breakdown of law and order and the sense of personal security.
“And so today we are doing what we promised – restoring quiet, the sense of personal security and law and order to the residents of South Tel Aviv and also those of many other neighbourhoods.”