S. Sudan officials arrive to oversee repatriations

Foreign Ministry says delegation from Juba's Interior Ministry is purely bureaucratic, notes repatriation requires cooperation.

African migrant walks with suitcase in south Tel Aviv 370 (R (photo credit: REUTERS/Baz Ratner )
African migrant walks with suitcase in south Tel Aviv 370 (R
(photo credit: REUTERS/Baz Ratner )
Officials from the South Sudan Interior Ministry arrived in Israel on Wednesday to help oversee the deportation of their country’s citizens detained by immigration officials this week, the Foreign Ministry said.
The delegation is purely bureaucratic and is no way political in nature, a Foreign Ministry official said, adding that the officials will help process the repatriation of their citizens and will also examine if any of those slated for deportation could be eligible to receive refugee status in Israel.
The official added that since repatriation requires the cooperation of the home country, the delegation will be in Israel until Sunday.
The official said that he had not heard of any statements made by the officials criticizing the government’s decision to deport South Sudanese citizens, but added that recent anti-migrant statements by Israeli MKs, and violence directed at migrants, “are not doing us any good anywhere in the world, neither in terms of the bilateral discussions on repatriation nor on multilateral level in terms of our relations with organizations around the world.”
Sabine Haddad, spokeswoman for the Population, Immigration, and Border Authority, announced on Wednesday that immigration enforcement officers have arrested around 300 migrants since “Operation Going Home” began on Sunday morning, and that another 300 have signed papers agreeing to leave. She said that the vast majority of them are South Sudanese, with a small number of illegal migrants from elsewhere in Africa, Europe and Asia.
Haddad said the government has already organized one charter flight on Sunday to take around 150 people to South Sudan, and that Israeli authorities may order a second charter flight for Sunday to take back people who have signed return papers.
She added that the deportation sweeps by immigration officers will continue in the coming days.
The deportations follow a decision by the Jerusalem District Court last Thursday to reject a petition by human rights groups that called for banning the deportation of South Sudanese on the grounds that their lives would be endangered by returning home.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said on Wednesday that “we are taking care of the infiltrators problem. In another few months the [Sinai] fence will be finished and we will stop the flow of infiltrators.”
Netanyahu mentioned Israel’s efforts to begin building a holding facility for infiltrators, and to stiffen penalties for employers hiring illegal migrants.
“We have also decided to return the [African migrants] to their home countries. We will solve this problem,” the prime minister said.
As the detentions continued on Wednesday, Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch condemned what he described as the populist manner in which the Interior Ministry was handling the deportations.
“I don’t like – and that’s an understatement – the public relations, or that media photographers were added [to the Interior Ministry’s Oz Unit making the arrests],” the minister told Army Radio.
“Photographing the migrants during their arrest is wrong and it’s populist. These are human beings, and their human dignity must be safeguarded,” Aharonovitch added.
He accused the Interior Ministry of seeking to show off to the public in an effort to prove how effective it was, adding that in reality, “Only dozens or a hundred” migrants were arrested.
South Sudanese number between 700 and 1,500 out of the total illegal African migrant population of over 60,000 in Israel. An estimated 85 to 90 percent are from Eritrea and Sudan and cannot be deported, because they would stand to be persecuted upon return.