Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on Monday signaled he was ready to begin repatriating African migrants, which he termed the "second stage" in the effort to clear Israel of illegal infiltrators.
"We have succeeded in blocking the entry of infiltrators from Africa to Israel," Netanyahu said at the start of a discussion he convened on the issue. "After having faced the threat of the entry of hundreds of thousands, this month, not one infiltrator entered Israel's cities."
The prime minister said that after workers complete construction of the the security fence being built along Israel's southern border next month, Israel will start working to send migrants already in Israel back to their home countries. "Now we are moving on to the second stage, that of repatriating the infiltrators who are already here."
Netanyahu appointed a special representative, Hagai Hadas, to oversee the repatriation of "tens of thousands of infiltrators" to their countries of origin. There are currently an estimated 60,000 migrants residing in Israel, mostly originating from Sudan and Eritrea. Thousands of migrants are being held in detention facilities in the South, with Israel's "infiltrator law" enabling authorities to imprison without trial for up to three years anyone who has entered the country illegally.
Though many politicians have campaigned heavily on the issue of repatriating African migrants, the move has been largely hampered by legal caveats. On Hanukkah, right-wing MKs Michael Ben-Ari and Arieh Eldad held a candle-lighting ceremony in south Tel Aviv to issue a call to expel all African migrants from Israel. They labeled the event "banishing the darkness."
The Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) issued a scathing attack on the government policies pertaining to African migrants earlier this month, charging that, inter alia, the State was refusing to examine asylum requests and was instead treating all migrants as illegal.
Sigal Rozen, the public policy coordinator for the Hotline for Migrant Workers said that she doesn’t think that the move will happen and that is mostly just a political statement made by Netanyahu ahead of the January elections.
“We don’t think it will happen because we know it’s impossible and we also don’t think he’ll stoop that low, to deport thousands of refugees back to the countries they fled.”
Rozen also took note of the timing of the message, which came on Christmas Eve, saying that most of the Eritreans in Israel, who make up the majority of the migrants in Israel, are Christian.
Rozen added “he’s always saying stuff like this, this is not the first time. We’ll have to see if it’s something more serious or just an attempt to win votes from the far-right.”