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03 April 2018, 04:45 | Myrtle Vega
Israel to send more than 16000 African migrants to Western countries
Canada is set to take in a number of African migrants from Israel, according to the United Nations refugee agency, but a late-in-the-day declaration from Israel's prime minister has put the fate of the deal in question.
It also ends the possibility that many would be forcibly deported to an unnamed African country, widely believed to be Uganda or Rwanda.
Under the deal with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Israel said it plans to relocate more than 16,000 migrants to Western countries, from the 35,000 to 40,000 who have arrived mostly from dictatorial Eritrea and war-torn Sudan.
For each migrant resettled overseas, Israel would give "temporary residence" to a migrant in Israel, Netanyahu told a news conference earlier on Monday.
The decision in January to offer the migrants a cash lump-sum and a plane ticket to leave Israel voluntarily or otherwise face forced expulsion was controversial in Israel.
Human rights activists in Israel and major US Jewish organizations had long urged the Israeli government not to go ahead with its plan to force the migrants to choose between jail and deportation.
In addition, as part of the deal, the government will focus on providing occupational guidance, vocational training and other assistance to the migrants to help them integrate into Israel.
Netanyahu named Germany, Italy and Canada as examples of countries that would accept the migrants, though German and Italian officials said they had no knowledge of any such agreement.
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The plan, initially approved by the Israeli cabinet in November, has drawn concerns from the United Nations refugee agency, which called it incoherent and unsafe.
The migrants have become a political issue, with religious and conservative politicians portraying the presence of Muslim and Christian Africans as a threat to Israel's Jewish character. But Israel struggled with what to do with those already in the country, alternating between plans to deport them, and offering them menial jobs in hotels and local municipalities.
Migrants began entering Israel through what was then a porous Egyptian border in 2007.
Some Holot inmates were transferred to the nearby Saharonim prison.
Those released were barred from living or working in seven cities with high migrant populations, including Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and the Red Sea resort of Eilat.
"We have been monitoring this situation closely and as was reported last month we have been in direct contact with the Government of Israel and we reached an arrangement with Israeli authorities to suspend the deportation and detention of individuals who have private sponsorship (PSR) applications for Canada until the processing of their case has been completed", Jaswal said in the emailed statement.
Only a handful of asylum claims have been approved in recent years.
The optics of black asylum seekers accusing the country of racism has turned into a public relations liability for Israel, and groups of Israeli doctors, academics, poets, Holocaust survivors, rabbis, and pilots have all appealed to halt the plan.
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