Israel Election: Netanyahu Tells Supporters He Is Working With Sudan to Return Asylum Seekers

Hours before PM faces down with Gantz yet again, Netanyahu courts right-wing voters by floating deal

Lee Yaron
Lee Yaron
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Collage of Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu, Jerusalem, January 23, 2020 and Sudan's Abdel Fatah al-Burhan, Khartoum, August 17, 2019
Collage of Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu, Jerusalem, January 23, 2020 and Sudan's Abdel Fatah al-Burhan, Khartoum, August 17, 2019 Credit: Kobi Gideon/GPO // Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah/Reuters
Lee Yaron
Lee Yaron

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has discussed the prospect of deporting Sudanese asylum seekers in Israel with the country's new leader, Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, he said Sunday. The announcement came hours before polls opened in a general election that had him and rival Benny Gantz neck and neck.

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Bibi went gunning for his only real rivalCredit: Haaretz Weekly Ep. 66

The prime minister said that he aimed to enable "the infiltrators who came from Sudan to go back to their homes in peace, to return to a new Sudan with which we have a new relationship. We're working on it now." 

The statement was posted on the official Twitter handle of Likud lawmaker May Golan, who is running for Knesset in Monday's election.

Golan is a figurehead in the movement to deport asylum seekers, a constituency that Netanyahu, and his de facto partners on the right of Israeli politics have courted. The term "infiltrator" is liberally used by some politicians in Israel to refer to asylum seekers and migrants in general.

A protest of Sudanese asylum seekers in Tel Aviv, April 2019.
A protest of Sudanese asylum seekers in Tel Aviv, April 2019.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

Burhan heads Sudan's Sovereignty Council, a transitional institution that includes representatives of the military and civilian protesters that put an end Omar al-Bashir's 30-year-rule last year. He met with Netanyahu in Entebbe, Uganda, in early February, for which he has faced some backlash from the broader leadership in Khartoum

The Israeli prime minister's office said after the meeting the parties had "agreed to start a new collaboration that would lead to a normalization of relations between the two countries." But there is no certainty this will receive approval in Sudan

As Haaretz reported at the time, people close to Netanyahu hinted that if ties with Sudan were to be formalized, it would help Israel in deporting Sudnese asylum seekers residing in the country

Unlike Eritrea, where Israel agreed asylum seekers cannot return due to the situation in the country, the official stance regarding Sudan is that asylum seekers cannot be sent there because Jerusalem does not have diplomatic relations with Khartoum.

Most countries of refuge do not deport asylum seekers to conflict areas in Sudan. International treaties, to which Israel is a signatory, have also determined that every asylum request must be considered individually - making a mass return unlikely, despite Netanyahu's hints.

Prime Minister Netanyahu touring south Tel Aviv and meeting with residents on Thursday, August 31.
Prime Minister Netanyahu touring south Tel Aviv and meeting with residents on Thursday, August 31.Credit: Moti Milrod

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