‘Israel offered cash-for-migrants deal to unnamed African state’

‘Israel offered cash-for-migrants deal to unnamed African state’

Foreign Ministry officials say High Court will never approve transfer of asylum-seekers to third countries

Migrants from South Sudan leave their homes in Tel Aviv last year after the government arranged for them to be sent back to their home country(photo credit: Tali Mayer/Flash90)
Migrants from South Sudan leave their homes in Tel Aviv last year after the government arranged for them to be sent back to their home country(photo credit: Tali Mayer/Flash90)

Israel has reportedly struck a deal with a yet to be named African country to absorb Illegal migrants from Sudan in exchange for $8,000 per head, but Foreign Ministry sources said such a deal is untenable because it would not pass judicial review.

Reports of the deal in the Hebrew daily Maariv came out a day after a state lawyer told the High Court of Justice on Sunday that an agreement was reached with an unidentified country to absorb some migrants from Eritrea, and that Israel was in talks with two other countries to secure a similar agreement for asylum seekers from Sudan. The details of the arrangement were not disclosed, although the state’s lawyer, Yochi Gnesin, said the return of migrants would be “gradual.”

According to the report, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s special envoy, former Mossad agent Hagai Hadas, has spent the past year communicating with African countries in an effort to repatriate the border-hopping migrants. Among the countries Hadas negotiated with were South Sudan, Ethiopia, Uganda, Malawi, Kenya, Congo, and Ghana. Some of the countries rejected the proposal outright, while one country conditioned the repatriation effort on Netanyahu paying it a state visit. Another country said it would accept Israel’s deportees in exchange for Israel taking theirs.

Gnesin told the court on Sunday that the countries involved in absorbing the migrants were doing so “in exchange for one thing or another,” although it was not clear what they would receive in return. Haaretz reported that Israel had agreed to provide agricultural expertise as part of the deal.

However, Foreign Ministry officials told Maariv that any transfer of migrants to third countries is impossible because the court would never agree to it. On Sunday, a panel of nine judges ordered the government to provide details of the arrangement, including the name of the African country, within seven days.

Tally Kritzman-Amir, an immigration law expert at the Academic Center for Law and Business in Tel Aviv, said that Israel could neither effectively supervise the conditions of deported migrants nor guarantee they would not be sent back to their home countries in the future.

“It is possible to transfer the migrants to a third country,” she said, “but the primary responsibility to the rights of the refugees still lies with Israel.”

Eritrean and Sudanese nationals make up roughly 90 percent of the 60,000 African migrants currently in Israel. Over the past few years, tens of thousands of migrants fleeing forced conscription and slave labor in Eritrea and civil war in Sudan have made the trek of hundreds of kilometers to Israel on foot, crossing the Egyptian border.

Upon their arrival in Israel, many have been detained and placed in prison for infiltrating the border, before being released to fend for themselves. Most of them end up in the slums of Tel Aviv, which sometimes leads to clashes with the local population.

Israel, which considers the Africans economic migrants, does not automatically recognize the asylum claims of African migrants and does not generally grant them refugee status. Instead, it grants them a temporary release permit from prison, which allows them to remain in the country, while their claims are examined.

Under the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, which Israel is signatory to, states are obligated not to send refugees to countries where they would face physical or political danger.

Last year, Israel oversaw the transfer of several hundred asylum seekers from South Sudan back to their home county after it declared independence in July 2011.

Netanyahu on Sunday praised his government’s efforts to curb illegal immigration to Israel following the publication of statistics indicating that the number of migrants was dropping.

“The fence we built in the south achieves the result for which it was erected,” he said in a statement. “As opposed to more than 2,000 illegal migrants that entered Israel [per month] a year ago today… [in May] only two crossed the border, and they were arrested.

“Now we need to focus on repatriating illegal migrants found here, and this task we will also accomplish,” Netanyahu said.

Construction of the formidable 230-kilometer-long (140 miles) fence along the Egyptian border was completed in January.

Ilan Ben Zion contributed to this report.

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