Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gestures during a news conference at the Prime Minister's office in Jerusalem April 2, 2018. .
(photo credit: REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun)
For every migrant deported from Israel, one will be allowed to stay, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday, detailing a new plan for the deportation of migrants at a press conference at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem.
Israel announced earlier Monday that it had cancelled a contested plan to deport migrants to third-party countries in Africa, believed to be Rwanda and Uganda, having reached an agreement with the United Nation’s Refugee Agency to allow them to be resettled in Western countries, while others will be permitted to remain in Israel.
Netanyahu named Canada, Italy and Germany as countries in which the migrants will be resettled.
The deal reached between the Prime Minister's Office and the UN High Commission on Refugees stipulates that Israel can deport at least 16,250 migrants while granting temporary residency to an additional 16,000.
Netanyahu told the press conference that the Supreme Court had banned the state from deporting migrants to countries that won’t absorb them. The prime minister and Interior Minister Aryeh Deri also said that the third country they intended to send the migrants to “had not stood under the pressure” and had not agreed to accept migrants who were forcibly deported.
Appealing to the anti-migrant camp, the Prime Minister's Office highlighted that the new plan allows for the deportations of even more migrants than previously planned, but it will all be done under the auspices of the UN and the international community. An additional 16,000 will be allowed to stay as long as they meet so far undisclosed criteria, which are to be determined through cooperation between Israel and the commission.
The original deportation plan had come under severe criticism, with human rights organizations saying Israel was sending the asylum seekers, mostly Eritrean and Sudanese nationals, to their deaths. Weekly protests have been held in Israel against the deportation plans as well as pressure from parts of the Jewish world.
15,000 protest the deportation of African migrants in south Tel Aviv, February 24, 2018 (Rebecca Montag)
Netanyahu and Deri stressed that they had strived to maintain the previous plan, “but due to legal constraints and political difficulties on the part of the third countries, it was necessary to arrive at new and improved understandings that would ensure the continued departure of thousands of immigrants from Israel."
The plan is divided into three stages, spread over five years, at the end of which “the reality of life in south Tel Aviv and the neighborhoods will significantly improve," the Prime Minister's Office statement read. "The agreement was approved by the Attorney-General and is consistent with international law and accepted practice."
The government will also set up a special unit to help rehabilitate the neighborhoods of South Tel Aviv, which were most affected by a massive influx of African migrants earlier this decade.
In addition, as part of the agreement, a major effort will be put forth to more evenly distribute the asylum seeker population across Israel and assist with job placement and training for some of the asylum seekers who are to remain in the country.
Following the announcement, Education Minister Naftali Bennett criticized the deal, stating that it would turn Israel into a "heaven for infiltrators."
"The agreement gives status to 16,250 infiltrators, will turn Israel into a heaven for infiltrators, and represents complete capitulation to the campaign of lies that has been promoted in the media in recent months," said Bennett.
"The original draft that was put together by the government on the issue of infiltrators was moral and just, and we must act only according to that: refugees from dangerous places will be absorbed by Israel, economic infiltrators will be returned."
"In the new draft, Israel will absorb economic migrants who have not even submitted a request for refugee status," he concluded.