Three days after Israel's top court ruled that African asylum seekers can be deported to Rwanda and Uganda, but only can be held in detention for sixty days, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited south Tel Aviv neighborhoods and the area around the central bus station, where many asylum seekers live.
Police closed off streets in the area ahead of the visit – the first such tour by Netanyahu in years.
"We will return south Tel Aviv to the citizens of Israel, they are not refugees, but infiltrators looking for work," he said. He added: "If needed, we will legislate an amendment to the law or change the agreements with the African countries, or both."
On Monday, the Supreme Court ruled that that unlimited detention of asylum seekers may not be used in order to force deportation. An asylum seeker's consent to leave due to the fear of incarceration “is not true consent and therefore it cannot be used for deportation to a third country,” the ruling states. The court also ruled that a person who refuses to leave voluntarily for a third country can be held for two months at most.
Speaking with residents, the prime minister also promised that the government would step up enforcement against asylum seekers 'in the face of those who employ them, in the face of the lawless infiltrators."
Netanyahu made reference to the border fence on Israel's frontier with Egypt, built to halt the flow of asylum seekers, saying that if it had not been built, there would be a million Africans in Israel.
The prime minister said he intends to convene a ministerial committee that would meet on a monthly basis with Israeli citizens and officials to deal with the issue of asylum seekers.
Netanyahu was accompanied during his visit by Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan and Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev.
No asylum seekers were invited to join the tour. Human rights activists and some residents demonstrated in the area, directing their opposition either at the government's policy or the purported neglect of the south Tel Aviv neighborhood.
The Prime Minister's Office said the purpose of the visit was to "identify with the residents and hear about their distress against the backdrop of the high court decision." Netanyahu's bureau said he intends to push for legislation "that will provide a response to deal with the distress from labor migrants following the criticism expressed by the Supreme Court."
According to data from the Interior Ministry's Population and Immigration Authority, there are about 38,000 African asylum seekers in Israel including about 27,500 from Eritrea, 7,900 from Sudan and 2,600 from other African countries.
The flow of African migrants into Israel has been halted entirely, with only one person getting caught attempting to cross the Israel-Egypt border. In addition, in the first six months of 2017, about 2,100 of the asylum seekers have left Israel.
The past two years has seen an increasing trend of asylum seekers looking to settle in other Western countries, particularly Canada while the numbers going to Uganda and Rwanda have become relatively marginal. The numbers of asylum seekers returning to Eritrea and Sudan have also declined.
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