Interior Minister Eli Yishai on Monday addressed the arrest of dozens of migrants earlier in the day, saying that the deportation of South Sudanese was just a first step towards the deportation of all migrants from Israel. Immigration authorities rounded up some 50 illegal African migrants in Eilat and other southern cities for eventual deportation Monday. The number is expected to grow throughout the day, as arrests are still being made across the country.
Migrants in both Eilat and Tel Aviv also said that members of the community were staying indoors to avoid arrest. The roundup, carried out by the Population, Immigration and Borders Authority's Oz Unit, came one day after authorities arrested 25 migrants in Eilat, among them eight from South Sudan.
Speaking to Israel Radio, Yishai said "the real story is north Sudan and Eritrea. I do not yet have authorization to expel the migrants from those countries, but I will work towards their deportation as well. And it will be done eventually."
Yishai said that the arrested migrants will be taken to a holding facility in southern Israel and added that "by next week we will charter a plane to fly the migrants to South Sudan." The interior minister encouraged South Sudanese migrants to turn themselves over to authorities of their own volition in order to receive a stipend of 1,000 euros prior to deportation.
"I am not working out of hate of foreigners, I am working out of love for my nation," Yishai said. "Giving up on this mission would be tantamount to giving up on the declaration of independence."
The Jerusalem District Court on Thursday rejected a petition by human rights groups to bar the expulsion of South Sudanese migrants, who were supposed to have one week to leave voluntarily before Israeli authorities started arresting them.
Orit Marom of ASSAF, the Aid Organization for Refugees and Asylum Seekers in Israel, slammed the arrests as a "shame."
"Children getting ready for school were taken from their homes in the early morning," she told The Jerusalem Post. "It's despicable. How do they expect these people to submit individual requests to stay in Israel, as the state required of them, (while in custody)?"
The Population, Immigration and Borders Authority said that though the week had not passed, they were still allowed to begin arresting the illegal migrants.
Hours after Sunday's arrests were announced, hundreds of African migrants, most of them from Darfur and elsewhere in Sudan, marched in Tel Aviv against what organizers said is racism and the mistreatment of asylum seekers and refugees in Israel.
Ben Hartman contributed to this report