‘Sudanese migrants will be sent back,’ claims Israeli official

Cohen told Hebrew media that the Sudanese government would be willing to accept some 6,000 Sudanese citizens currently living in the Jewish State.

By Lauren Marcus, World Israel News

After an historic visit as part of an Israeli delegation to Sudan, Intelligence Minister Eli Cohen told Hebrew media that the Sudanese government would be willing to repatriate some 6,000 Sudanese citizens currently living in the Jewish state.

“Unequivocally, [the Sudanese government] is willing to take back the Sudanese migrants. It also pays off financially for them,” Cohen told Israel Hayom on Wednesday.

Nearly all the Sudanese are concentrated in the south Tel Aviv neighborhood of Neve Sha’anan, near the central bus station. Israeli residents of the area have long pleaded with the government to deport the migrants, complaining of spikes in serious crime, including rapes, assaults and robberies, and a decrease in their quality of life.

Before the October 2020 announcement of a normalization agreement between Sudan and Israel, the legal status of Sudanese migrants in Israel was unclear.

Although the Israeli government does not recognize the vast majority of Sudanese as refugees, the lack of diplomatic relations between the two nations meant that Israel was unable to return Sudanese citizens to Sudan.

Because deportation was impossible, the Sudanese have been given de facto residency and employment rights, with many being paid in cash for work in the restaurant and hospitality industries.

Cohen said the two countries were planning job training programs for Sudanese migrants before their deportation, and that Israel would commit to an economic development project in Sudan in order to ease the transition.

“They [the Sudanese government] expressed a desire to move forward quickly in all areas,” he added.

But Cohen’s remarks directly contradict statements from the Interior Ministry’s director general, Prof. Shlomo Mor-Yosef.

Mor-Yosef said in an early January press conference that the peace agreement with Sudan did not mean that the Israeli government would move to repatriate Sudanese migrants.

“There was some expectation here that if there were an agreement with Sudan, then there would be planes at the airport and they’d all get on and go back to Sudan,” Mor-Yosef said. “Well, they won’t go and they won’t be sent.”

The situation in Sudan is “unpredictable, and what looks like quiet now can be loud tomorrow,” he added. “There’s no plan to return these people against their will; at this stage, that’s not on the table.”

In an interview with World Israel News, Jonathan Yakubowicz of the NGO Israeli Immigration Policy Center expressed cautious optimism about Cohen’s statements.

“We’re for a plan that sends people back in a constructive manner, including job training,” he said. “But I’m skeptical about how realistic this is…[I doubt] this is a carrot with no stick.

“I don’t see many of them returning, even after a job course or training,” he told WIN.

“Israel has to immediately state that there is no legal impediment to sending them back to Sudan, even if they don’t plan on [returning] people immediately,” Yakubowicz said. “It’s highly important in order to set a legal precedent.”

“Regretfully, for now, we’re not seeing that change. The courts are continuing to give residency rights [to Sudanese] because the state is unwilling to say it [that there’s no legal impediment to deportation].”