Sudanese refugees
Sudanese asylum seekers in the Negev in 2007. Photo by Alex Levac
Text size

Israel deported some 150 refugees back to their native Sudan on Monday night. An Israeli official said that each of them had agreed to do so voluntarily.

The deportees will fly first through another country before reaching Sudan, concluding months of negotiations as Israel sought an African state willing to absorb the influx of migrants that have infiltrated in recent years. Most of the states that Israel had been in contact with refused to agree.

Israel finally turned to the United Nations refugee commissioner to see if it would be possible to send some of the migrants back to their home countries.

"Everyone is leaving Israel willingly," an Israeli official said before the refugees were to board their plane. "We are making sure that their security in Sudan will be ensured and we have received guarantees that nothing bad will happen to them. Everything has been coordinated with the UN and with governments in Africa."

The refugees underwent security inspection in an isolated area in the Ben Gurion Airport and from there will be flown through the third-party state back to Sudan. The flight was initially supposed to leave Sunday night but was later delayed by a day.

In addition to paying for the flight, Israel also gave each returning family $500 to help them readjust to life in Sudan.

The deportation is part of Israel's recent extensive efforts to curb the number of illegal African migrant who have infiltrated through the southern border.

The cabinet decided just weeks ago to build a detention center to hold and then deport the thousands of illegal migrant workers, whom Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has described as a "threat to the character of the country".

Israel last month also began work to construct a barrier to seal off part of the border with Egypt's Sinai desert from where many of the migrants enter the country.

The project that includes both a physical barrier and electronic surveillance to secure 140 km (8 miles) of the 250 km border should take over a year to complete at a cost of NIS 1.35 billion (about $370 million), the Defense Ministry said.

Eyal Gabai, director-general of Netanyahu's office, said last week that over 35,000 migrants had entered Israel in the past few years and that in 2011 Israel could expect to see up to 20,000 migrants enter illegally.