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
Earlier on Thursday, the Jerusalem District Court rejected a
petition by rights groups opposed to the migrants’ deportation.
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
Interior Minister Eli Yishai praised the ruling, calling it “the
first step in the expulsion of all the infiltrators [in Israel].”
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
“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
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
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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
“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
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
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
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.
remainder of the fence runs through the mountains near Eilat.
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.