Thousands of African migrants have reportedly relocated from Israel to Western nations as part of a program under which they voluntarily leave the country.
Israel has for several years been pressuring migrants to relocate to Uganda and Rwanda, through incarceration in detention facilities and the promise of financial incentives. However, of the more than 15,000 migrants who have left in recent years, 3,600 went to countries in the West, with two-thirds heading to Canada, Channel 2 news reported Monday.
Western countries mostly take migrants from Eritrea, with a preference for those with a profession, and also prioritize women, children, and the sick.
Recent agreements between the Foreign Ministry and Canada, which has a list of desirable professions, will see a number of Eritreans travel to the North American country to take part in a butchers course. Those who fail will return to Israel, the report said.
The migrants apply to the embassies of the various countries or via the UN. If they are accepted, Israel pays for their flight and gives them a $3,500 cash package. A large portion of those who went to Western countries did so independently or with the help of refugee aid organizations that find them sponsors and work.
According to the African Refugee Development Center, there are approximately 46,437 Africans in Israel who consider themselves asylum seekers, though Israel rarely grants them that status. The majority, 73 percent, are from Eritrea, and approximately 19% are from Sudan. Many say they fled persecution in their home countries.
Aside from the thousands who reached Canada since 2014, hundreds have gone to other countries including The Netherlands (381), Sweden (359), the United States (320), Switzerland (90), Norway (86) and Germany (63).
The program has the full support of Interior Minister Aryeh Deri.
“We have moved out 20,000 migrants voluntarily, but we still have a very large number of them,” Deri told Channel 2. “Therefore, I will make every effort with third world countries and Western countries. I hope that, with God’s help, we will be able to give back — to the residents of south Tel Aviv and other neighborhoods around Israel — the quiet, security, and peace that was taken from them.”
Some residents of south Tel Aviv have protested the presence of the migrants, who they claim have overrun their neighborhoods and engage in crime.
Since the beginning of the year, some 5,000 migrants have voluntarily left Israel for a third country, the report said. However, aid groups claim that due to the enormous pressure put on asylum seekers, they are not really leaving of their own volition.
Deri is preparing legislation that will forbid employing anyone who is released from the Holot complex. Over 3,000 asylum seekers and migrants are usually incarcerated in the detention center in southern Israel, where inmates are required to check in during morning and evening hours, but are free to leave during the day. Those not held in Holot have found accommodation elsewhere, with many gravitating to south Tel Aviv, where they can find cheap living quarters in what are often dismal conditions.
Last week, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Netanyahu announced the establishment of a ministerial committee to deal with the migrants in Israel — though few have crossed in recent years, since Israel built a formidable barrier on its border with Egypt — and vowed to “remove [the] illegal aliens who don’t belong here.”
The prime minister’s remarks come on the heels of a Supreme Court ruling that said the government could continue its controversial practice of voluntary departure to an unnamed third country, but also said it could no longer jail for more than 60 days those who refuse to leave.
The ruling — effectively hobbling the program — was met with outrage by right-wing lawmakers and some residents of south Tel Aviv.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this reports.