Israel Scraps African Migrant Deportation Plan

The government will also set up a special unit to help rehabilitate the neighborhoods of South Tel Aviv, which were most affected by a massive influx of African migrants earlier this decade.

The committee that came up with the plan stated that it will come up with a "rehabilitation plan" for southern Tel Aviv.

Most of the African migrants in Israel are from Eritrea and war-torn Sudan, saying they fled danger at home and that it is not safe to return.

Implementing the signed agreement was expected to take five years.

The new plan, under the auspices of the United Nations, will replace the previous plan, which had been due to go into effect Sunday, which was to expel the migrants to unnamed third-party countries, believed to be Rwanda and Uganda - although both have denied involvement in the plan.

A fence Israel has built over the past few years along its border with Egypt has all but stopped African migrants from entering the country illegally.

The announcement comes a day before the deadline imposed by the Israeli government in January, giving some 38,000 undocumented African migrants the choice between indefinite imprisonment with eventual forced expulsion, or a $3,500 payment and a plane ticket back to their home countries or to Rwanda and Uganda - with which Israel struck deals in 2017 and 2013 to accept migrants in exchange for modest sums of money.

Netanyahu said on social media that Rwanda had in the past few weeks folded to vast pressure and backed out of the deal it had made with Israel to accept expelled migrants, prompting him to seek the new arrangement with the UNHCR.

Israel will deport 16,000 refugees to West, while grant 16,000 temporary residency status.

Shlomo Mor-Yosef, a senior official at Israel's Interior Ministry, said migrants would be absorbed throughout the European Union, as well as in Canada and the United States.

There was no immediate comment from the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees. An additional 16,000 will be allowed to stay as long as they meet so far undisclosed criteria, which are to be determined through cooperation between Israel and the commission.

Israel has never disclosed the names of the African third country or countries with which it said it reached a secret agreement to take the asylum seekers.

In a joint statement, a group of Israeli rights organizations praised Monday's agreement and vowed to monitor it to make sure it is respected. "We really hope that the Israeli government will stop abusing them and will respect their rights as refugees". He said the group would work with Israel and resettlement countries to aid the migrants.

More than 1,400 asylum seekers are being held in two detention centres, including the notorious Holot facility in the Negev desert which has continued to operate even after an Israeli Supreme Court ordered it to close over rights concerns in 2014.

But not everyone was pleased. Tens of thousands remain mired in the bureaucratic process, though Israeli leaders say they have added staff to clear the backlog. He called for the plan to be brought to the Cabinet for a vote.

  • Tracy Klein