On Thursday, three days after the High Court ruled that the state could not forcibly expel illegal migrants to an African country willing to accept them, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu visited south Tel Aviv, where Israeli residents have been up in arms over what they call the invasion of their communities by illegal African migrant workers. “Our mission is to return south Tel Aviv to Israel’s citizens,” the prime minister said on the tour, the first time he has visited the neighborhood.
South Tel Aviv has become the main locus of illegal African workers, mostly from south Sudan and Eritrea, most of whom have claimed the status of political refugees. Under international law, Israel cannot deport political refugees back to their own country, but they do need to be certified as refugees by Israeli authorities.
“They are not political refugees, but illegal immigrants,” Netanyahu said on the tour. “We need to update the law on deporting them or update the agreement we made with African countries to accept them.”
Netanyahu was referring to an arrangement the government worked out with an unnamed African country to accept Eritean and south Sudanese migrants from Israel. That country promised to accept the migrants and examine their claims of refugee status, and provide them with employment.
The deal was challenged by groups advocating on behalf of the migrants. The government has long contended that most of the migrants are here to work, not for political asylum, but with a backlog of years in cases to decide whether claims of political asylum are accurate, the illegals effectively are able to stay and work in Israel without a decision being made on their status.
In its decision Monday, the High Court said that the state can recruit migrants to be voluntarily deported, presumably by paying them off – but it cannot force them to leave. In addition, the court ruled that the state could keep migrants in the Saharonim camp in southern Israel, where police have been sending the migrants, for no more than 60 days.
Residents and government officials said that the ruling basically gives free reign to illegal immigrants to enter Israel and remain, as there was no way to force the migrants to leave.
Commenting on the decision, PM Netanyahu said that “we will have to examine the legislation and rework it in order to allow us to activate our policies.” Until such time,” the prime minister said Thursday, Israel will “increase our enforcement efforts against lawbreakers, employers who give these illegal jobs; everything we need to do to protect Israelis.”