Netanyahu: Asylum Seekers to Be Deported to One of the Safest Countries in Africa

Calling the campaign against the deportation 'absurd,' the PM said those to be deported are 'illegal labor migrants,' while 'genuine refugees and their families will remain in Israel'

Protest against Israel's plan to deport African refugees in Jerusalem in 2017.
Emil Salman

Responding to the protests over his government's plans to deport African asylum seekers, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the campaign "absurd" in remarks on Sunday and characterized those subject to deportation as "illegal labor infiltrators." Netanyahu said that the asylum seekers will be deported to a country seen by the United Nations as one of the safest in Africa. 

The prime minister said his government had also taken additional steps to expedite the review of applications for refugee status in Israel. "Genuine refugees and their families will remain in Israel," he said. "We have no obligation to let illegal labor infiltrators to remain here. They will be removed to another country," Netanyahu said, adding that international law and rulings by the Israeli High Court of Justice allow the government to expel illegal labor migrants.

Israel is obligated to accord refugee status to those who demonstrate a well-founded fear of persecution in their home countries. Most of the asylum seekers in Israel from East Africa crossed the border on foot, entering Israel from Egypt before the construction of a border fence which stopped the flow. There are currently about 35,000 Eritrean and Sudanese asylum seekers in Israel, and another 5,000 children of asylum seekers.

Without naming the African country to which the migrants would be sent, Netanyahu said, that country had already taken in 180,000 migrants (from places other than Israel) under the auspices and supervision of the United Nations "because the United Nations considers it one of the safest in Africa. The campaign [against the deportations from Israel] is therefore improper and absurd," he said.

There have been regular reports of plans by Israeli authorities to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda and Uganda. The Rwandan deputy foreign minister, Olivier Nduhungirehe, recently told Haaretz that his country would not accept any migrants sent to the country against their will.

Last week, the director of the Interior Ministry's Population and Immigration Authority, Shlomo Mor-Yosef, told the Makor Rishon weekly that only single male labor migrants would be deported. Families with women and children would be allowed to remain in the country.