Citizens of the Democratic Republic of Congo have until early January to leave Israel, the Population Immigration and Border Authority said this week, after determining they are no longer in need of temporary protection.
The decision by Interior Minister Aryeh Deri, first published Sunday, was made in consultation with the Foreign Ministry, which found there was no “impediment to the expatriation” of Congolese citizens, a statement from PIBA said.
Congolese citizens will have until January 5 to leave Israel, according to PIBA, and no new residency permits extending beyond that date will be issued.
“It would be prudent to hereby clarify that as of January 5, 2019, enforcement measures will be taken against illegal residents who are citizens of the Democratic Republic of Congo,” the statement said.
There are hundreds of Congolese citizens residing in Israel, according to the newspaper, who fled the DRC following violence in the country in the early 2000s.
Along with asylum seekers from Sudan, South Sudan and Eritrea, citizens of the DRC are the only ones eligible to receive temporary protection status in Israel. Critics have accused Israel of dragging its feet in making asylum determinations for the migrants.
It was not immediately clear what precipitated the policy change. The Congo has been wracked for years with long-running civil conflicts and authorities there are currently battling an outbreak of the Ebola virus.
The Hotline for Migrants and Refugees condemned PIBA’s decision and called on it to instead rule on asylum requests of the Congolese migrants.
“This is another failure by the Population Immigration and Border Authority, that for over a decade has dragged its feet and refrained from deciding on asylum requests of 208 citizens of the Congo, and is now demanding they return to a dangerous country whose situation has still not stabilized,” the Hotline told the Haaretz daily.
Antagonism in Israel toward migrants has hardened in recent years with an estimated 35,000 African immigrants in the country facing hostility from lawmakers and residents in communities with high migrant populations.
According to a Pew Research Center survey last month, 57 percent of Israelis oppose accepting refugees fleeing war and conflict, ranking well behind that of citizens in many other Western countries.
The High Court of Justice has pushed back against government plans to jail or deport the migrants, saying a solution in line with international norms must be found.
The Africans, mainly from war-torn Sudan and dictatorial Eritrea, began arriving in Israel in 2005 through its porous border with Egypt, after Egyptian forces violently quashed a refugee demonstration in Cairo and word spread of safety and job opportunities in Israel. Tens of thousands crossed the desert border, often after enduring dangerous journeys, before Israel completed a barrier in 2012 that stopped the influx.
While the migrants say they are refugees fleeing conflict or persecution, Israel views them as job-seekers who threaten the Jewish character of the state.
AP contributed to this report.