Israel confirmed on Sunday that it has reached an agreement with an African country willing to absorb migrants living in Israel and that similar deals are being negotiated with four other states.
The government has refused to reveal which countries are involved.
In an affidavit submitted by the state to the High Court of Justice on Sunday, an envoy appointed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that the African countries in question have asked not to be named. Israel has agreed to the request, he said, due to the "diplomatic and political sensitivity" of the issue.
The envoy, Hagai Hadas, said that he has recently made a trip to promote the deal with one of the countries.
"During this visit, we have reached major points of agreements with the country that has consented, at this stage, to serve as a destination for some of the [migrant] populations at stake," he said. "However, specific details regarding these populations have yet to be addressed, and operational measures have yet to be devised."
He added that Israel is in "advanced" talks with four other states regarding similar agreements, without offering any specifics.
"The characteristics of the [migrant] population and the pace of their arrival will be coordinated with the target countries," he said, noting the migrants will be deported via commercail flights.
While the envoy has not said so outright, the confirmed deportation agreement applies mainly to Eritrean migrants. In the four other forthcoming deals, the states in question could serve as layovers for Sudanese nationals on their way to their home country.
Hadas' affidavit was submitted to the High Court alongside the state's response to a petition against an amendment to a law that allows the prolonged incarceration of people who enter Israel illegally. The deal was first announced by Attorney Yochi Gnessin, who represents the state prosecution, in a hearing that dealt with the petition last week.
In its response, the State Prosecutor's Office has sought to clarify the difference between Eritrean and Sudanese migrants.
Israel has avoided deporting Eritreans as a matter of policy, but has sought to deport Sudanese migrants. It has been unsuccessful in the latter case because Israel does not have diplomatic relations with Sudan, the state prosecution said. It added that it sees no obstacle to returning the Sudanese migrants to their country via a third state.
Last week, Gnessin said the state will first address in the international agreements the 2,000 migrants currently being held in detention facilities in Israel, most of whom are Eritrean and Sudanese nationals who entered Israel through the Egyptian border.
According to the Population and Immigration Ministry, some 36,000 Eritrean and 14,000 Sudanese migrants are living in Israel. Many have applied for asylum but evidently the state has only responded to three of the requests, which have been rejected.
The human rights groups that have petitioned the High Court against the amendment to the "anti-infiltration" law blasted the state's response.
"Just one week ago the state's representative stated at the High Court that an agreement has been reached with a third country willing to absorb the asylum seekers who are being detained under the anti-infiltration law," said attorney Yonatan Berman, the head of the Clinic for Migrants' Rights at the College of Law and Business.
"Now, after the state has been asked to provide details, it appears that its statements have been inaccurate, to say the least From Hadas' affidavit, this isn't an 'agreement' but a multi-year plan, and no one knows when it will be executed, if ever, and to whom it will apply," he added. "This is nothing but a smoke screen meant to allow for the prolonged imprisonment of asylum seekers in Israel."
Last week, a senior Israeli official said an African country has agreed to take in Eritrean labor migrants living in Israel if Israel gives them agricultural training first. He said the resettlement process is likely to last at least five years.
Hadas, who was appointed to coordinate talks with African states a year ago, has personally approached several African states, offering that Israel establish agricultural farms in their territories for refugees from Eritrea. The obvious benefit to the African states is Israeli assistance in promoting agriculture. The states included, South Sudan, Ethiopia and probably Uganda.
Israel has also offered incentives like financial grants, medical aid and infrastructure assistance to any country that agrees to take the migrants in.
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