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Photo by: Ben Hartman
Yishai to S. Sudanese: Leave now or be deported
By BEN HARTMAN, Y. LAPPIN, Y. KATZ, HERB KEINON
06/08/2012
Senior source says migrants who accept offer to voluntarily leave within week will get 1,000 euros and a flight ticket home.
 
The Interior Ministry has informed South Sudanese migrants that they have one week to voluntarily leave Israel.

Migrants who accept the offer will receive 1,000 euros and a flight ticket home courtesy of the State of Israel, a senior source said. After the week passes, the migrants will be arrested and expelled.

Earlier on Thursday, the Jerusalem District Court rejected a petition by rights groups opposed to the migrants’ deportation.

In its ruling, the court said the NGOs did not provide evidence that the South Sudanese would be in physical danger if they were returned to their country.

Interior Minister Eli Yishai praised the ruling, calling it “the first step in the expulsion of all the infiltrators [in Israel].”

The Interior Ministry said that there are around 35,000 migrants from Eritrea and 15,000 from Sudan, and acknowledged for the time being that not all of them can be deported. Nonetheless, Yishai said that until all of the migrants are out of Israel, he will continue to support the construction of a tent city and holding facilities to detain them so they do not disperse in cities across Israel.

“This is not a war against infiltrators,” Yishai said. “This is a war for the preservation of the Zionist and Jewish dream in the Land of Israel.”

Population, Immigration and Borders Authority spokeswoman Sabine Haddad said the arrests had not yet begun, but that the thousands of South Sudanese in Israel would be “processed” for deportation “in the near future.”

An Israeli official quoted by Reuters said the state had assigned 11 clerks to vet refugee claims, many of which could be complicated by applicants’ lack of documentation. The official predicted processing the South Sudanese’s claims would take several weeks.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu convened a ministerial meeting after the court decision was announced, and said steps were being taken to begin to “turn the corner and start solving” the illegal migrant issue.

At the meeting, attended by Yishai, Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch, Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman and representatives of the police, IDF and Prisons Service, Netanyahu outlined a four-pronged policy for dealing with the illegal migrants.

The first prong, he said, was to complete the 240-kilometer-long border fence with Egypt, which is expected to be finished by the end of the year. The second was to build and expand holding facilities for arrested migrants, where they will be housed until they are deported. The third prong was to transfer infiltrators to these holding facilities immediately after they cross the border, and not allow them to make their way to the cities. The final component of this policy is to punish employees giving the migrants jobs.

Likewise, Netanyahu said, Yishai was preparing his ministry for deporting migrants, and Aharonovitch was getting his ministry ready to work with the Border Police to arrest criminals among the migrants in Tel Aviv.

However, a government official said that it was unrealistic to think most of the estimated 60,000 to 65,000 illegal migrants would be deported. This is because, he said, some 40 percent of them are from Eritrea, and the UN has said returning the migrants there would endanger their lives. An additional 30% are from Sudan, an enemy state.

The migrants cannot just be “dropped from the sky,” the official said. Their deportation must be coordinated with their country of origin – something that is impossible in the case of Sudan.

Of the tens of thousands of migrants, only between 700 and 2,000 are from South Sudan, with which Israel has friendly relations.

The Israeli government and NGOs disagree on the number of South Sudanese in Israel, with the Interior Ministry saying there are around 2,000 and NGOs and activists saying there are between 700 and 800.

Whatever the figure, they are a small minority within the population of over 60,000 African migrants in Israel, most of whom are from Eritrea or Sudan.

The court ruling appears to put into effect an announcement made by the Population, Immigration and Borders Authority in January, which said that because the South Sudanese now have their own country – and one that has a good relationship with Israel – they have until April 1 to leave Israel willingly or face deportation.

The announcement had also offered a stipend of 1,000 euros to each adult who left willingly.

William Tall of the UN High Commission for Refugees said the Jerusalem court’s support for the Interior Ministry’s removal of “collective protection” status for the South Sudanese appeared to be in line with the formal end of their country’s war with Sudan.

“We have been assured by the government that they [the South Sudanese] still enjoy the individual opportunity to apply for asylum,” Tall told Reuters, noting that continued territorial disputes between Khartoum and Juba may still justify refugee claims. There was no immediate comment from Juba.

Tall said that between 800 and 900 South Sudanese had voluntarily returned to their homeland from Israel in recent years, despite the lack of reliable, scheduled flights between the countries.

The Defense Ministry will begin construction of facilities next week that will be able to hold 20,000 African migrants ahead of their deportation.

The project will include the construction of five facilities in the South that will be managed by the Prisons Service and the Interior Ministry.

The Defense Ministry said the facilities would be used to house anyone who infiltrates Israel starting next week.

The immediate goal of the program is to start processing all new migrants who cross the border illegally and send them to the new installations as early as next week.

The installations are being designed to hold the migrants in the designated locations, even for an extended period if necessary, to prevent them from dispersing throughout the country.

Soon, the Defense Ministry expects to complete three installations near Ketziot in the South, as part of the existing prison setup in that location.

The ministry said that all possible efforts would be made, within the limits of the short deadline given to the project, to ensure the living standards in the new installations are in line with applicable regulations, including laws concerning water and electricity.

Meanwhile, the Defense Ministry, with the assistance of the IDF, continues to move forward with another major construction project to address the migrant issue.

Construction of the fence on the Egyptian border is moving forward at an accelerated rate, the ministry said. By October, 95% of the fence is expected to be finished. To date, more than 170 kilometers of the fence between Ein Kerem and Shalom Netafim have been built.

The remainder of the fence runs through the mountains near Eilat.

More than 100 contractors are working on the fence, finishing an additional kilometer of fence each day.

The project is scheduled to be completed sometime in early 2013.

Yonah Bob and Reuters contributed to this report.
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