Plane with 120 S. Sudanese migrants set to depart

Deadline to voluntarily leave Israel extended; S. Sudan officials say J’lem promised to release detainees, pending departure; PIBA denies claim.

Immigration authorities check Africans' IDs 370 (photo credit: REUTERS/Baz Ratner)
Immigration authorities check Africans' IDs 370
(photo credit: REUTERS/Baz Ratner)
The Population, Immigration and Borders Authority (PIBA) announced Friday that it was extending the one-week deadline for South Sudanese migrants to voluntarily leave Israel in exchange for 1,000 euros and a flight ticket home courtesy of the State of Israel.
The Interior Ministry issued the ultimatum last week, saying the migrants would be arrested and expelled after the deadline was up.
The first plane carrying 120 South Sudanese migrants is slated to leave Israel Sunday night.
PIBA stated that some 300 people in the South Sudanese migrant community had already opted to leave voluntarily. The entire community is estimated at between 700 and 1,500 people. The one-week deadline was extended due to the relative success of the operation, according to PIBA, which did not specify until when it would extend the deadline.
“Operation Going Back Home” was put into effect after the Jerusalem District Court ruled last week that the South Sudanese would not be in physical danger if they were returned to their country.
Immigration authorities have arrested some 300 South Sudanese migrants since the operation began, in addition to the 300 who have agreed to leave voluntarily.
Members of a South Sudanese delegation visiting Israel told The Jerusalem Post on Friday that Israeli government officials promised them that the migrants who were arrested in the past week would be released until their deportation.
The delegation held a town hall meeting in Tel Aviv on Friday with South Sudanese residents of Israel, where it spoke to them about the ongoing deportations and presented Israel’s point of view on the matter.
The meeting was held inside the “Sudanese Cush Church” on Levanda Street near the Central Bus Station, and over 100 well-dressed South Sudanese residents of Israel attended. The atmosphere was at times argumentative, with members of the crowd passing around a microphone and describing in Arabic their experiences in Israel, often with a degree of anger. The members of the delegation, to their credit, took turns giving talks to the crowd, at times cracking jokes to raucous laughter. The meeting ended with prayers given by South Sudanese Pastor William Deng, with shouts of “Hallelujah” rising from the congregation.
Speaking outside the meeting, Abdon Terkoc Matuet of the South Sudan Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the delegation’s mission was “to encourage our citizens – South Sudan citizens – to voluntarily register and go back to South Sudan because we are in need of our citizens to participate in development, and thank God that they were willing to go voluntarily without forcing them.”
He said the Israeli government was cooperating with the delegation, having announced it would release those South Sudanese it had previously arrested, not arrest any others and give them time to register and be transported home.
“So we thank the State of Israel for having kept our people during the war and transporting them back to their country,” Matuet said.
However, PIBA said no such deal was reached.
Matuet added that the migrants had been the recipients of group protection because of the war in South Sudan, but with the war over and South Sudan an independent country, there was no longer any reason they could not go back there and be normal citizens.
When asked about how footage of the arrests of South Sudanese played back in South Sudan, Matuet said: “It sent a negative signal, but now having talked to them [the South Sudanese], they understand that any country needs to organize foreigners in their country. In South Sudan we do too. We have foreigners and we ask them to go back, those who are staying illegally.”