Israel to send 16,000 African migrants to Western countries, including Canada

In this Feb. 22, 2018 file photo, asylum seekers march during a protest outside Israeli Prison Saharonim, in the Negev desert, southern Israel.
In this Feb. 22, 2018 file photo, asylum seekers march during a protest outside Israeli Prison Saharonim, in the Negev desert, southern Israel. AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov, File

JERUSALEM, April 2 (Reuters) – Israel said on Monday it has canceled a plan to deport African migrants to Africa and reached an agreement with the UN refugee agency to send more than 16,000 to Western countries instead.

Other migrants, many of whom are seeking asylum, will be allowed to remain in Israel for at least the next five years, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu‘s office said in a statement.

“[This is] a unique agreement between the UN commissioner and the state of Israel, that takes 16,250 people out, takes them out to developed countries like Canada, or Germany and Italy – that is the commitment the UN High Commissioner has made – to organize it and even to fund it,” Netanyahu said on live television.
Story continues below advertisement

READ MORE: Pope Francis baptizes Nigerian ‘migrant hero’ who disarmed Italian thief

The fate of some 37,000 Africans in Israel has posed a moral dilemma for a state founded as a haven for Jews from persecution and a national home. The right-wing government is under pressure from its nationalist voter base to expel the migrants, while others are calling for them to be taken in.

In February, Israel started handing out notices to 20,000 male African migrants giving them two months to leave the country or risk being thrown in jail.

The Israeli government has offered migrants, most of whom are from Sudan and Eritrea, $3,500 and a plane ticket to what it says is a safe destination in another country in sub-Saharan Africa, which Israeli media reports identified as Rwanda.

WATCH: Canada condemns Israel for deporting asylum seekers

Click to play video: 'Canada condemns Israel for deporting asylum seekers' Canada condemns Israel for deporting asylum seekers
Canada condemns Israel for deporting asylum seekers – Mar 1, 2018

But rights groups advocating on behalf of the migrants say that many of them fled abuse and war and that their expulsion, even to a different country in Africa, would endanger them further.

Story continues below advertisement

The groups had challenged the deportation plan in Israel’s High Court, which on March 15 issued a temporary order that froze its implementation.

“Israel and the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees have reached unprecedented understandings for the departure of at least 16,250 migrants … to Western nations,” the Israeli statement said, without naming the countries.

READ MORE: Turkish President Erdogan calls Israeli PM Netanyahu a ‘terrorist’ as pair trade barbs

A UNHCR spokeswoman confirmed that an agreement had been reached but gave no details.

The U.N.’s refugee agency had urged Israel to reconsider its original plan, saying migrants who have relocated to sub-Saharan Africa in the past few years were unsafe and ended up on the perilous migrant trail to Europe, some suffering abuse, torture and even dying on the way.

A fence Israel has built over the past few years along its border with Egypt has all but stopped African migrants from entering the country illegally. Since 2005, prior to which the border had been porous, a total of 64,000 Africans had made it to Israel, although thousands have since left.

Sponsored content