Deportation or jail: Israel gives African migrants 60-day deadline to leave country and has started issuing deportation orders to African migrants, giving them 60 days to return to their home countries or opt for an unnamed safe haven. Those failing to meet the deadline risk being sent to prison.
Israel’s Population, Immigration and Border Authority delivered the first batch of notices Sunday, telling migrants they have to leave before April 1. The notification says the government arranged their relocation to “a safe third country.” In addition to the travel documents and free plane tickets, the migrants will receive a $3,500 cash payment.
The deportation letters does not name the “safe” destination, but describes it as “a country that, in the past decade, has developed tremendously,” according to images of the notice circulating in Israeli media. In addition to “some of the highest economic figures in Africa,” the receiving country also offers “stability in its regime.” Upon arrival, newcomers will be granted a residence and work permit.
Should migrants fail to comply willingly with the directive, they will be jailed for an indefinite term, according to media reports, or will be forcibly expelled with the money bonus “significantly reduced.”
Despite, the warnings, some migrants, well versed in playing victim, remain defiant. “They told me I had to leave to a third country. They didn’t say which one, but I know it’s Rwanda. It’s a danger country,” Debasai Berharabo, 50, from Eritrea told YNet. “If I don’t leave in two months they’ll jail me. Let them. I prefer prison, no matter how long I’m there. They don’t understand I won’t leave to my death. Prison is better than death.”
Other migrants seem to share the non-compliant stance, saying they would rather go to prison than return to Eritrea or Sudan. “They told me to leave after 60 days. I told them that I cannot, there’s a problem because I came here,” Haaretz quoted an Eritrean, named Habtum.
Israel hosts an estimated 38,000 African migrants and asylum seekers, most of them Eritrean and Sudanese, according to interior ministry figures. Since 2007, some 60,000 migrants arrived in the country through the desert border with Egypt. Israel set up a 245-kilometer fence on the frontier in 2013 in an attempt to curb the inflow.
“We have expelled about 20,000 and now the mission is to get the rest out,” Netanyahu said on Wednesday in public remarks at a cabinet meeting that approved the scheme. Some 60,000 Africans, mostly from Eritrea and Sudan, entered Israel before it erected a fence along its border with Egypt in 2013.
ince May 2015, Israel has offered migrants $3,500 and a free plane ticket to return home. However, starting in April, any of the estimated 38,000 illegal African migrants caught still living in the country could face incarceration.
They will still have the option of leaving Israel voluntarily after March, but the government payout for doing so will be significantly smaller. Migrants can also choose to relocate to a “third country.”
Around 1,400 migrants are currently being held in two detention centers in Israel. Under new legislation enacted last month, Israel will close its Holot detention center. The migrants who live there will face a choice: to be jailed in the Saharonim Prison or deported to Rwanda. Israel and Rwanda recently signed an agreement whereby asylum seekers can be sent there, even without their consent, causing an outcry among human-rights groups.
Commenting on the new policy, Netanyahu said that the presence of thousands of undocumented African migrants poses safety and security problems, particularly in Tel Aviv.
“We are keeping our promise to restore calm, a sense of personal security and law and order to the residents of south Tel Aviv and those in many other neighborhoods,” he said.
The barrier along Israel’s border with Egypt effectively cut off the stream of migrants crossing into the country from North Africa. Referring to his own “great success,” Netanyahu voiced support in January for US President Donald Trump’s plan to build a wall along the US-Mexico border, calling it a “great idea.”
“President Trump is right. I built a wall along Israel’s southern border. It stopped all illegal immigration. Great success. Great idea,” Netanyahu wrote in a tweet. Tel Aviv later clarified that it had no position on US-Mexico relations.
Israel has also turned away asylum seekers from the war-torn Middle East. Netanyahu has previously said that Israel is too small and “lacks [the] demographic depth and geographic breadth” to take in refugees from Syria. He said that Israel must “protect [its] borders against illegal immigrants.” However, Israel’s prime minister insisted his nation was not indifferent to “human tragedy,” noting that “we conscientiously handled a thousand [people] who were wounded in the fighting in Syria, and we have helped them rebuild their lives.”