Gov’t to Try Once Again to Deport Illegal African Migrants

An African laborer rides a bike carrying fabric along a main street in South Tel Aviv. (Yossi Zamir/Flash90)

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is trying once again to forcibly deport illegal African migrant workers, Yisrael Hayom reported Tuesday. According to the report, Netanyahu on Tuesday signed agreements with several African countries to accept African refugees who are in Israel illegally and who claim they cannot be sent home for fear that they will be persecuted or killed.

Israel has signed such deals in the past, but due to High Court rulings, the program was voluntary. As a result, the government was forced to offer migrants thousands of dollars in cash and benefits to persuade them to emigrate. Those who refused the deal were sent to the Holot detention facility in southern Israel, with the court ruling that the government could not forcibly detain the migrants there, either.

The reason for the court’s largesse to the migrants is that most of them, hailing from South Sudan and Eritrea, 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. The government contends that most of the migrants are here to work, not for political asylum. However, with a years-long backlog of cases needing decisions as to whether claims for political asylum are legitimate, the illegals effectively are able to stay and work in Israel without a decision having been made on their status.

In its latest decision in August, the court said that forcibly ejecting the migrants was possible if a third-party country agreed to accept the migrants and adjudicate their refugee cases. According to the report, the new agreement does just that. Details regarding which country signed the deal or what incentives Israel is offering that country to accept the migrants were not published.

Last year, the government worked out an arrangement with an unnamed African country to accept Eritrean and South Sudanese migrants from Israel. That country promised to accept the migrants, examine their claims of refugee status and provide them with employment. The deal was challenged by groups advocating on behalf of the migrants.

Many of the migrants have settled in south Tel Aviv, where Israelis say they have taken over the streets and institutions, imposing a reign of fear on residents and bringing crime and disease into the neighborhood. The report said the groups are expected to challenge this agreement as well.