Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu called an emergency meeting Thursday on the issue of illegal migrants. Interior Minister Eli Yishai, Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovich and Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman all attended the meeting.

During the discussion, Netanyahu said, "this is a difficult problem and we are working on it."

He laid out four ways in which the government was working to resolve the issue: "First, by completing the fence. Second, by establishing and expanding holding facilities. Third, by transferring the infiltrators directly from the border to the holding facilities. And fourth, by punishing employers."

Earlier Thursday, the Jerusalem District Court rejected a petition by human rights groups opposed to the expulsion of South Sudanese migrants from Israel, signaling that the deportation of South Sudanese migrants in Israel appears set to begin in the near future.

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

Yishai praised the ruling, calling it "the first step in the expulsion of all the infiltrators [in Israel]".

In a statement, the Interior Ministry said that in Israel there are around 35,000 'infiltrators' from Eritrea and a further 15,000 from Sudan, and acknowledged that at the moment all of them cannot be expelled for the time being.

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 ’infiltrators.’

"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 Thursday that the arrests have not begun but that the South Sudanese migrants in Israel would now be "processed" for deportation "in the near future."

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

The Israeli government and NGOs disagree on the number of South Sudanese in Israel, with the Interior Ministry saying they number around 1,500-2,500 and NGOs and activists saying the number is closer to 700 to 800. Whatever their number, they are a small minority of the 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 PIBA in January, in which they said that because South Sudanese now have their own country, and one that has friendly relations with Israel, they have until April 1st to leave Israel willingly or face deportation. The announcement also offered a 1,000 Euro stipend per adult for those who leave willingly.

William Tall of the United Nations High Commissioner 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 (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 have voluntarily returned from Israel in recent years, despite the lack of reliable, scheduled flights between the countries.

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