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(i24NEWS) Israel resumes contact with UN over African migrant deal, media reports

Posted by: Semere Asmelash

Date: Friday, 04 May 2018

Israel resumes contact with UN over African migrant deal, media reports

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African migrants pour out of the Holot Detention Centre in Israel's Negev desert after their release on August 25, 2015
Menahem Kahana (AFP)
African migrants began entering Israel through what was then a porous Egyptian border in 2007

Israel has reportedly resumed its contact with the UN on negotiating a deal to resettle thousands of African migrants, a month after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu canceled a deal that would have sent more than 16,000 migrants to “western countries” in exchange for thousands of others granted temporary status in Israel.  

Israel's Channel 10 News reported on Wednesday that the Israeli government is seeking to improve the initial deal Netanyahu made with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in April.

When the deal was struck on 2 April, Israel said it would halt its controversial scheme to forcibly deport mainly Eritrean and Sudanese migrants to third party countries, widely believed to be Rwanda and Uganda.

The deal initially said that 16,250 of the some 38,000 African migrants would be resettled in various “developed” countries name dropped as Germany, Italy and Canada under the auspices of the UNHCR in exchange for thousands of others being granted temporary status in Israel.

It was set to be implemented in partnership with the UN into three stages over the next five years.

Netanyahu said Israel had to scrap the earlier plan because the option of sending them to a third country "no longer exists". He stressed that “legal constraints as well as political difficulties on the part of Uganda and Rwanda led to its cancellation. Rwanda later denied all claims that a deal with Israel ever existed to begin with.

In April, a special Israeli envoy to Uganda was appointed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to negotiate a deal regarding the acceptance the African migrants, but has so far failed to reach an agreement.

The UN refugee agency has strongly criticized the deportation plan and urged Israel to return to the deal, which would have allowed thousands of migrants to remain in the country in return for an equal number being relocated to Western nations.

Some Israelis, including Holocaust survivors who say the country has a special duty to protect migrants, have also opposed the deportation plan.

Of the 42,000 African migrants in Israel, half are children, women or men with families who are not facing immediate deportation, according to interior ministry figures.

Migrants began entering Israel through what was then a porous Egyptian border in 2007. The border has since been strengthened, all but ending illegal crossings.

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