Date: Monday, 02 April 2018
Israel has said it has agreed with the UN to scrap plans to deport African asylum seekers, and will instead resettle many in western countries.
On Monday, Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said it had reached “unprecedented understandings” with the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, under which Israel would send more than 16,000 migrants to countries willing to accept them.
The deal removes the threat of forced expulsion to an unspecified destination in Africa.
The Africans, nearly all from dictatorial Eritrea and war-torn Sudan, say they fled for their lives and faced renewed danger if they returned.
Israel considers the vast majority of the nearly 40,000 migrants to be jobseekers and said it has no legal obligation to accommodate them. Critics called the deportation plan unethical and a stain on Israel’s image as a refuge for Jewish migrants.
Israel said the agreement would be implemented over five years.
The issue has struck a raw nerve in Israel and its image as a refuge for Jewish migrants.
The optics of black asylum seekers accusing the country of racism has turned into a public relations liability for Israel, and groups of Israeli doctors, academics, poets, Holocaust survivors, rabbis and pilots have all appealed to halt the plan.
The Africans started moving toward Israel in 2005, after neighbouring Egypt violently quashed a refugee demonstration and word spread of safety and job opportunities in Israel. Tens of thousands crossed the porous desert border before Israel completed a barrier in 2012 that stopped the influx.
Thousands of the migrants concentrated in neighbourhoods in south Tel Aviv, where ethnic food shops and phone card stalls line the streets, and the area has become known as “Little Africa.” This has sparked tension with the working-class Jewish residents who have been putting pressure on the government to find a solution.