The first organized group of South Sudanese imigrants left Israel early Monday morning, flying out of Ben-Gurion International Airport to Juba, the capital of the fledgling South Sudanese state.
One-hundred and twenty-seven South Sudanese were being repatriated with the flight, after receiving a plane ticket and disbursement from Israel in return for leaving voluntarily.
Interior Minister Eli Yishai (Shas), who arrived at the airport to witness the flight, was quoted by Ynet as saying “We are in favor of the State of Israel. If I have to choose between the interests of the Sudanese and the interests of Israel, I choose Israel.”
Yishai told Channel 2 news that “Israel is not deporting [the migrants], Israel is returning them to their land.” Calling the midnight flight a “first step,” he said, “our mission is a national mission,” to return the migrants to their land.
The interior minister said that Israelis employing the migrants must pay them all wages due, and that the Interior Ministry would severely punish any employer found taking advantage of the current situation and not paying salaries owed.
Yishai said that “refugees” will stay in Israel, and added, “We know what a refugee is.”
Earlier on Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that he would like to increase the pace of the deportation flights, adding that those in the public eye must be precise with their words and afford all due respect to deportees.
Also Sunday, Israel Radio reported that only thirty-eight people snuck into Israel through its southern border with Egypt last week, the lowest number for a one-week period in years.
A source in the Prime Minister’s Office said the low number of illegal border-crossings proves the the migrants are “getting the message.” He said Africans are realizing that they will not find jobs in Tel Aviv, and that they will be arrested.