“Today the Cabinet will approve the plan for deporting the infiltrators from Israel,” said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a statement.
By: Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News
Before the construction of the fence along the border with Egypt was completed in 2012, approximately 65,000 people – the vast majority male Africans – crossed illegally into Israel. Most of them came from war-torn Sudan, Somalia and Eritrea, and several thousand have applied for asylum, claiming their lives would be in danger if they were forced to return.
The Israeli government has granted refugee status to very few, however, arguing that most border-jumpers were in reality economic migrants whose entry to the country constituted the crime of entering the country illegally.
The government built the Holot and Saharonim detention centers, the latter of which has already been closed, to hold at least some of the infiltrators and tried passing laws regarding their detention and deportation. However, these laws were struck down by the Supreme Court as unconstitutional.
In mid-December, the Knesset approved its latest bill on the issue after a High Court of Justice ruling that allowed for deportation to a third country if the migrants did not want to return to their country of origin, but only with their consent and only if the third country was safe. The law also ordered the Holot center to be closed by March.
The Cabinet meeting Wednesday signaled that the pace of deportations will now speed up significantly. “Today the Cabinet will approve the plan for deporting the infiltrators from Israel,” said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a statement.
“We will step up enforcement and we will allocate budgets and personnel to implement the plan. I think that it is important that people understand that we are doing something here that is completely legal and completely essential,” explained Netanyahu.
Both carrots and sticks are part of the plan. Any migrant in the country who agrees to be sent to their home country or to a third country by March 2018 will receive $3,500, plus funds for their flight and assistance in arranging travel documents.
In fact, financial encouragement has been offered since 2014 with some success, as some 15,000 infiltrators have left voluntarily. 4,012 of them left in the last 12 months, according to figures released by the Population, Immigration and Border Authority (PIBA) on Sunday. Uganda and Rwanda were two countries that agreed to accept voluntary deportees.
But Israel reportedly signed an agreement with Rwanda in November to take in up to 10,000 forced deportees for $5,000 each. Thousands of deportation orders are going to be sent out soon, according to the Interior Ministry, and those who refuse will face prison, according to a statement put out by Interior Minister Aryeh Deri and Internal Security Minister Gilad Erdan. It should be noted, however, that the orders will not apply to children, the elderly or victims of slavery or human trafficking.
In an expected move, human rights groups like Amnesty International Israel and the Association for Civil Rights in Israel have demanded that the government halt the deportation process.