African migrants face removal from Israel with new law

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Leave, or go to prison: That's the ultimatum Israel has proposed giving African migrants who illegally entered the country and who do not have asylum applications pending.

Before Israel completed a barrier along its border with Egypt in 2013, about 60,000 African migrants - mostly from Sudan and Eritrea - crossed the desert frontier and settled in the Tel Aviv area.

African migrants have been promised a plane ticket and $3,500, however those that miss the deadline and refuse to leave, will face arrest. They will also be given the option of going to their home countries or third countries.

The move is an attempt to remove 40,000 illegal migrants from Israel, including those who fled to the country to seek asylum from conflict, the BBC reports.

"Beyond the end of March, those who leave voluntarily will receive a significantly smaller payment that will shrink even more with time, and enforcement measures will begin", an Israeli immigration official said, according to Reuters.

Chen Bril Egri, Head of Campaigns for Refugees and Asylum Seekers at Amnesty International, said the decision "expresses shameful cold-heartedness by the descendants of refugees who have forgotten their past, and who show contempt for basic human rights".

While we hope that calls for a policy change will have the desired effect, the Israeli government seems unlikely to change its mind at this point as it has ignored calls for better treatment of African migrants for years.

"Every country must guard its borders", said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the opening of a special cabinet meeting to address the matter on Wednesday.

Under the envisaged program, about 38,000 illegal migrants, mainly originating from Eritrea and Sudan, will be bound to leave by the end of March.

He said: "Today the cabinet will approve the plan for deporting the infiltrators from Israel. All the evidence indicates that anyone expelled from Israel to Rwanda finds himself there without status and without rights, exposed to threats, kidnappings, torture and trafficking".

They will be offered a $3,500 financial stipend as well as an air ticket to "third countries", reportedly including Rwanda and Uganda, in case it is too risky to return to their home countries.

African refugees who are Jewish are granted automatic asylum in Israel, as are Jews from anywhere in the world.

However, the High Court also ruled that since the deportations may only be carried out with the agreement of the migrants, refusal to leave Israel can not be considered uncooperative behavior. "The expulsion to Rwanda endangers the very lives of these refugees".

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