Published: Tue, April 03, 2018
Entertaiment | By Simon Arnold

Israel's Netanyahu Zigzags, Puts African Migrant Deal With UNHCR on Hold

Israel's Netanyahu Zigzags, Puts African Migrant Deal With UNHCR on Hold

Israel's prime minister says he has suspended an agreement with the U.N.to resettle African migrants in Western countries, just hours after unveiling the agreement on national TV.

"I am attentive to you, especially to the residents of south Tel Aviv", Netanyahu said on Facebook, adding that he planned to meet with local representatives on Tuesday.

The new formula reportedly will take up to five years to implement, and will include a plan to improve the living conditions in southern Israel, as well as redistribute the African population throughout Israel. A lot of them entered the country illegally via the land border with Egypt before a border fence was completed in 2012.

"Israel and the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees have reached unprecedented understandings for the departure of at least 16,250 migrants.to Western nations", said Netanyahu's office in statement.

A group of residents of southern Tel Aviv, where numerous migrants have settled, immediately denounced the new plan in a statement, calling it "a shame for the state of Israel".

Netanyahu, for his part, has referred to the asylum seekers as "illegal infiltrators".

Later, the prime minister identified these countries as Germany, Canada and Italy.

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.

In February, about 20,000 male migrants were handed notices that said they had two months or leave the country or risk facing prison time. The plan involved offering the migrants $3,500 payments and free airline tickets to return home or to "third countries" such as Rwanda and Uganda. The right-wing government has been under pressure from its nationalist voter base to expel the migrants.

The statement on Monday said the new plan meant there was no longer a need to send migrants to unnamed third countries.

The Africans, almost all from dictatorial Eritrea and war-torn Sudan, say they fled for their lives and faced renewed danger if they returned.

Rights groups advocating on behalf of migrants had challenged the deportation plan in Israel's Supreme Court, which on 15 March issued a temporary order that froze its implementation. It further argued that no one who has been approved for asylum would be deported, but Israel has only approved a handful of asylum claims in recent years.

Mr Bottinick said that several legal developments in the third-country destinations had interfered with Israel's plan to send the migrants there, in turn leading to renewed talks between the United Nations refugee agency and Israel, with deliberations gathering speed over the past few weeks.

The committee that came up with the plan stated that it will come up with a "rehabilitation plan" for southern Tel Aviv. The UN Refugee Agency said it violated local and worldwide laws.

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