Jerusalem, April 3 (IANS) Scores of African asylum seekers and supporters gathered outside the office of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday to protest against his decision to scrap a deal with the UN on their resettlement.
Netanyahu announced on Monday that he was suspending an agreement made with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees that would have prevented the deportation of hundreds of thousands of African migrants from Israel, just hours after announcing the deal at a press conference, Efe news reported.
Under the plan, made with the UN Refugee Agency, Israel was to send at least 16,250 African migrants to Canada, Italy and Germany. Another 16,000 would have been resettled in Israel.
There are approximately 37,000 illegal immigrants in Israel, the majority from Eritrea or Sudan, according to the Population and Immigration Authority.
The agreement with the UNHCR had been an attempt to address criticism of an even earlier plan, in which migrants would be offered $3,500 and an airplane ticket to leave for a sub-Saharan African country. Uganda and Rwanda were widely reported by the Israeli media as potential host countries, CNN reported.
That plan was successfully challenged by human rights groups in Israel’s High Court on March 15, where a temporary order blocked its implementation.
Many of the migrants from Sudan fled war and poverty. In Eritrea, they escaped a brutal dictatorship. Many of those seeking refuge made their way to Israel. But in 2013, Israel completed a fence running the length of the Sinai border, halting the flow of illegal migrants.
At its highest point, there were some 65,000 illegal immigrants in Israel. Over the past decade, the Population and Immigration Authority said it received 54,600 requests for asylum.
Only 33 were accepted while tens of thousands remain mired in the bureaucratic process, though Israeli leaders say they added staff to clear the backlog.