Immigration authorities arrested over 60 South Sudanese migrants on Tuesday, bringing the total number of illegal African migrants that the Population, Immigration and Border Authority had picked up since Sunday morning to 200.

A further 44 South Sudanese signed papers agreeing to leave of their own free will, PIBA said Tuesday.

As part of PIBA’s ongoing “Going Back Home” operation, the agency’s officers arrested 115 African migrants on Monday – 105 from South Sudan and the rest from countries in West Africa – in addition to a further 25 on Sunday morning.

The overwhelming majority of the migrants arrested since Sunday have been South Sudanese, and most arrests were carried out in south Tel Aviv, Eilat, Arad and other areas where the community – estimated to number between 700-1,500 – is concentrated.

The arrests follow a Jerusalem District Court decision last Thursday to deny a petition issued by NGOs trying to hold off the planned deportation. The court had ruled that the petitioners had not proven that South Sudanese citizens would be in grave danger by returning to their country.

The arrests also began Sunday despite promises that the South Sudanese would have a week to voluntarily leave before arrests begin.

A spokeswoman for the Prisons Service said Tuesday that Israel currently has room to jail 2,500 detainees until their flights if the arrests of South Sudanese continue, and if the state elects to begin jailing those caught illegally crossing the border in keeping with the “Infiltrators Law” that recently went into effect.

Israel this week stepped up construction of a detention facility to house around 20,000-25,000 African migrants near the border with Egypt.

During a visit by The Jerusalem Post to the site near Ketziot Prison last week, a few bulldozers were seen leveling the sandy earth, but there appeared to be little sign that a major detention facility would be finished anytime soon.

The South Sudanese and NGOs have alleged that the migrants are being coerced into signing forms saying they voluntarily agree to return to their country, in the face of threats of being jailed until deportation or the loss of the 1,000 euro stipend promised by the Israeli government.

Sharon Livneh of the African migrant aid organization ASSAF said Tuesday that a number of South Sudanese who appeared at an Interior Ministry annex in south Tel Aviv were told that they must sign the form or be jailed until their flight home.

Interior Minister Eli Yishai said Monday that this week’s arrests are the first step in the eventual expulsion of all illegal migrants in Israel – although he has acknowledged that Israel cannot at the moment expel Sudanese and Eritrean citizens, who comprise the vast majority of Israel’s population of over 60,000 illegal African migrants.

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