The Population, Immigration and Border Authority has launched its campaign to begin ridding Israel of its African asylum seekers, announcing Monday that many Eritrean and Sudanese nationals will have to leave the country within the coming months or be incarcerated indefinitely.
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There are some 35,000 Eritrean and Sudanese natives living in Israel, who have another 5,000 children who were born here. The overwhelming majority of the adults have temporary visas that they must renew every three months. The next time many of them come to renew their visas, they will be told it is the last renewal and that they will have to leave before the visa expires. The authority will propose that they either return to their countries of origin, or leave for Uganda or Rwanda.
Starting in April, the authority will take measures against those required to leave and their employers, the announcement said. Asylum seekers who don’t leave when expected will be jailed and their employers fined. The exit grant of $3,500 given to asylum seekers who leave willingly will also be gradually reduced starting in April.
Pressure to leave will also be exerted on the 970 residents of the Holot detention facility, which is expected to be closed in two-and-a-half months, and on the 450 Africans in Saharonim Prison.
In August the High Court of Justice ruled that Eritreans and Sudanese could be deported to Rwanda on condition that the agreement between Israel and that country is altered so that it doesn’t require the agreement of the deportee. After the ruling, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that he had adjusted the agreement with Rwanda accordingly. Anyone who refuses to cooperate will be jailed indefinitely.
During the first stage, any asylum seeker who could not be detained at Holot will not be deported. This includes women, children, those aged 60 or more, parents of minors living with them, those suffering from medical or mental problems and those who were enslaved or were victims of human trafficking. The 6,000 Eritreans and Sudanese who submitted requests to be recognized as refugees but got no response are also safe, at least until they get an answer.
In its announcement Monday, the authority made it clear that anyone who hadn’t yet formally requested asylum but does so now is not protected from deportation. “Requests for political asylum submitted after January 1, 2018 will not delay the demand for an infiltrator to leave to a third country,” the statement said.
Last week the Hotline for Migrants and Refugees petitioned the High Court of Justice to order the state not to deport Africans who had attempted to request asylum but were unable to do so. The hotline noted that for a while it has been difficult to even submit a request because the unit that handles the requests has been swamped. Every morning a long line forms in front of the unit’s office in south Tel Aviv but only a few gain entry to submit their request. The petition included a list of 113 asylum seekers who had tried to submit an asylum request but failed.
Netanyahu made it clear to authority officials that he expects to see a large number of asylum seekers leaving shortly. The authority estimates that the deportation operation will cost some 300 million shekels ($86.5 million) annually, for the hiring of additional employees, airfares and exit grants. The budget could be higher or lower, depending on how smoothly the process goes. The government is expected to allocate funds to the operation within the next few days.
While most of the Africans leaving in recent years went to their native lands or to other African countries, during the past two years there’s been a shift, with a majority leaving for Western countries, primarily Canada, where they receive residency status and broad rights and benefits. Sixty-four percent of the Africans who left Israel during the first nine months of 2017 went to Western countries, 20 percent left for Uganda or Rwanda, and 16 percent to Eritrea and Sudan. A total of 3,330 Africans left Israel in 2017.