22,000 illegal African migrants repatriated from Israel in recent years

Cabinet learns of figure for first time, amid reports of government incentive program and and under-the-table deals with African nations.

By
January 24, 2016 20:53
1 minute read.
Holot detention center

An African migrant holds an Israeli flag after being released from the Holot detention center in the Negev. (photo credit: REUTERS)

 
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Israel has repatriated some 22,000 illegal African migrants over the last number of years, the cabinet was told Sunday during a discussion on updating the migrant bill.

Israel has been working to repatriate migrants to either their home countries, or third countries, for years, and this is the first time that a firm number has been given.  Government officials consistently refuse to say which third parties have agreed to accept the repatriated migrants, though various news reports have mentioned Uganda and Rwanda.

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Rwanda's Foreign Minister Louise Mushikiwabo was in Israel last week, her second visit to the country in two years.  Senior officials have said that the ties with Rwanda are now the closest ties Israel has with any African country.  In addition, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos last week.

At the cabinet meet Netanyahu praised former interior minister Silvan Shalom for the work he did on the repatriation issue.  Shalom stepped down last month amid allegations of sexual misconduct. Netanyahu said that Shalom deserved praise for work he did on the migrant issue, saying that he “moved it forward a great deal and did good and important work.”

The government on Sunday amended the “anti-infiltration law” to reflected the High Court of Justice ruling from last year that migrants could only be held at the Holot detention facility for 12 months, and not 20 months as originally allowed for under the law.

Israel reportedly is paying $3,500 to migrants willing to voluntarily leave the country.

As of last March the number of illegal African migrants in the country was listed by the Population, Immigration and Borders Authority at some 42,000, though the actual number is believed to be considerably higher.  Most of them are from Eritrea and Sudan,


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