Rwanda, Uganda deny migrant deal with Israel

Israeli Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu has nixed a deal with United Nations refugee agency UNHCR regarding the deportation of African migrants and asylum-seekers.

Netanyahu's critics seized on his backtracking on the arrangement - under which thousands of other migrants would have won the right to remain in Israel - as a sign of political weakness.

Netanyahu had announced Monday afternoon that Israel agreed to cancel the planned expulsion of the migrants in the deal, which called for sending about half of the 35,000 African migrants to Western nations and allowing the rest to remain in Israel.

Given the lack of choices, Netanyahu said his deal with the United Nations refugee agency was the best available option.

"Despite legal restraints and global difficulties that are piling up, we will continue to act with determination to explore all of the options at our disposal to remove the infiltrators", Netanyahu said in his statement on Tuesday.

According to interior ministry figures, there are now some 42 000 African migrants in Israel, half of them children, women or men with families, who were not facing immediate deportation.

Those opposed to the original plan included Holocaust survivors who say the country has a special duty to protect migrants.

Two large demonstrations were held in Tel Aviv on behalf of the refugees.

Naftali Bennett, the education minister and head of the far-right Jewish Home party was instrumental in Mr Netanyahu's retreat, which at first took the form of a mere suspension. He said it would "turn Israel into a paradise for whoever succeeds in infiltrating it" and called on Netanyahu to cancel it completely.

He added that that the government must "proceed to a new roadmap will remove the illegal infiltrators from Israel".

"As a result, and after evaluating a new balance of advantages and disadvantages, I made a decision to cancel the agreement". "As a result, and after re-evaluating the balance of advantages and drawbacks, I made a decision to cancel the agreement". He's a politician who only cares about staying in power and who goes the way his street wants him to go.

A Canadian minister said that Canada was already in contact with UNHCR and Israel about accepting more refugees.

That will not be simple.

They had initially been given a deadline of April 1, but Israel's supreme court suspended the plan on March 15 while it continued to examine it. Asylum seekers previously deported to Uganda and Rwanda have told The Times of Israel they faced serious danger and even imprisonment after arriving in Africa without proper documents.

Before announcing the deal, Israel had been moving ahead with plans to deport numerous Africans to Rwanda. "We are still in a much better situation than we were a few days ago", said Sigal Rozen, a staffer at the Hotline for Refugees and Migrants.

  • Tracy Klein