What Comes Next for Asylum Seekers? Netanyahu Mulls His Options After Retracting UN Deal

His alternatives include deportation to another African country, reopening the Holot detention facility or legislation enabling expulsion

African migrants and Israelis demonstrate outside the Prime Minister's office in Jerusalem on April 3, 2018 against the Israeli government's policy towards African refugees and asylum seekers.
MENAHEM KAHANA/AFP

After Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu backtracked on the plan he announced on Monday to send refugees to Western countries, it emerged that Netanyahu is now examining several options for a deportation plan.

On Monday afternoon, Netanyahu announced that a deal had been clinched with the United Nations' refugee agency that would resettle 16,250 asylum seekers in the West, while roughly the same number would be permitted to remain in Israel.

Less than 24 hours later however, the prime minister announced that Israel was cancelling the deal with the UN, too, following pressure from within his party and from coalition members.

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Now the government must decide on a new course of action. Among the options is the possibility of finding a different country in Africa (not Rwanda or Uganda, which are off the table) that would agree to take in asylum seekers. Yet another option is to reopen the Holot detention facility, which was recently closed.

According to sources in the coalition, the government looked into promoting legislation Monday that would enable the incarceration and expulsion of the asylum seekers, a bill that is opposed to a Supreme Court ruling.

Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon (Kulanu) and Education Minister Naftali Bennett (Habayit Hayehudi) have both said that they would support such legislation, even if it includes a clause that allows the Knesset to pass the law again should the Supreme Court block it.

Bennett took to Twitter Tuesday night to express his support of deportation anchored by law. "As we said multiple times, we support the re-legislation of the law to prevent infiltration, including a clause that would prevent the Supreme Court from blocking the law.

"This will create an incentive for the infiltrators to leave Israel," the education minister wrote. "We fully back the prime minister in promoting that clause and expect the law to be passed quickly."

Netanyahu will have to decide soon among the options. After the state asked the Supreme Court for an extension, it has until April 9 to decide its response to two petitions filed by attorneys Avigdor Feldman and Itay Mack against deportation of asylum seekers. The Supreme Court suspended deportations to Rwanda and Uganda until it rules on the petitions. The state will also be required to respond by Wednesday at 1 P.M. to a request to release asylum seekers being held at Saharonim Prison.

On Wednesday, Netanyahu announced that he would continue to attempt to remove the asylum seekers from Israel. “Despite the mounting legal and international limitations, we will continue to act with determination to exhaust all of the options at our disposal for expelling the infiltrators,” Netanyahu said.