Tel Aviv, April 3 (IANS) Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said that he was suspending a plan to send thousands of African migrants to three Western countries, putting the brakes on a decision he had announced only hours earlier, the media reported.
On Monday night, Netanyahu said on his Facebook page that the deal would be re-examined, reports CNN.
He had come under heavy criticism for the agreement by members of his coalition and citizens of a south Tel Aviv community where a large migrant community lives.
Under the plan, made with the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), Israel was to send at least 16,250 African migrants to Canada, Italy and Germany.
Netanyahu had said earlier on Monday that the agreement was the result of an “unprecedented understanding” with the UNHCR.
The plan allowed for thousands of other African migrants to stay 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, CNN reported.
Uganda and Rwanda were widely reported by the Israeli media as potential host countries.
That plan was successfully challenged by human rights groups at Israel’s High Court on March 15, where a temporary order blocked its implementation.
At its highest point, there were some 65,000 illegal immigrants in Israel.
Over the past decade, the Population and Immigration Authority said that it has received 54,600 requests for asylum. Only 33 have been accepted. Tens of thousands remain mired in the bureaucratic process.