The Israeli government has issued a notice for thousands of African migrants to leave the country or face imprisonment. Rights group kick against controversial plan.
Israel will force tens of thousands of African migrants to leave over the next three months, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced on Wednesday.
Speaking at a cabinet meeting, Netanyahu said that the Israeli government will offer migrants a $3,500 payment and a free air ticket home or to “third countries” which rights groups have identified as Rwanda and Uganda.
“We have expelled about 20,000 and now the mission is to get the rest out,” Netanyahu said.
If they do not leave, the Israeli authorities have threatened that they will start jailing them from April. There are about 38,000 persons living as undocumented migrants in Israel, most from Eritrea and Sudan.
The Israeli government says the migrants’ return will be humane and “voluntary”.
The order exempts children, elderly people, and victims of slavery and human trafficking.
Groups including the Centre for Refugees and Migrants, Amnesty International Israel and the Association for Civil Rights in Israel have signed a letter demanding the expulsions be stopped. “Anyone who has a heart must oppose the expulsion of the refugees,” the letter says.
The UN refugee agency said in 2017 that the controversial plan violated international.
An investigation by Hotline for Refugees and Migrants, an NGO based in Israel, found hundreds of African asylum seekers deported “willingly” from Israel had died in torture camps in Libya or drowned at sea while trying to reach Europe.
“Out of the 36,000 Eritreans and Sudanese in Israel today, a total of 12 have been granted refugee status,” the group said. “There are children who were born in Israel, who read, write and dream in Hebrew, yet they have no legal status or protection from future deportations.”
Hotline says that as a result of problems with legal status, the refugee community had no access to health insurance, basic social or welfare services and limited education and work opportunities.
Most of the affected migrants arrived in Israel in the second half of the last decade, crossing from Egypt before the route was sealed.
Many of the migrants say they came to Israel to seek asylum after fleeing persecution and conflict, but the authorities regard them as economic migrants.
Israel uses the term “infiltrators” to describe people who did not enter the country through an official border crossing. Netanyahu has in the past said that migrants posed a threat to Israel’s social fabric and Jewish character, describing them as “worse than terrorists”.
Felix Dappah with agency reports