Eritrea’s president in a rare interview Wednesday expressed his displeasure with Israel’s plan to deport tens of thousands of African migrants, saying they deserve far more than the $3,500 offered to leave.
President Isaias Afwerki’s interview, which was posted on a government website, said the migrants from his country and Sudan paid a “high price” to human traffickers to reach Israel and deserve more like $50,000.
Many leaving the East African nation claim they fled a restrictive regime where men are often forced into a military service with slavery-like conditions.
Afwerki claimed the Eritrean migrants were enticed abroad to organize an armed opposition, but that the “subversive schemes” failed and the migrants have become a burden.
He said Eritrea has offered to register all of its migrants but Israeli authorities refused.
There are approximately 38,000 African migrants and asylum seekers in Israel, according to the Interior Ministry. About 72 percent are Eritrean and 20% are Sudanese, and the vast majority arrived between 2006 and 2012.
Last month, the Knesset approved an amendment to the so-called “Infiltrator’s Law” paving the way for the forced deportations of Eritrean and Sudanese migrants and asylum seekers starting in March, and the indefinite imprisonment of those who refuse to leave.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has announced deals to send the migrants to third-party countries in Africa. Though he has refused to divulge which countries they are, they are widely thought to be Rwanda and Uganda.
Israeli rights activists and Jewish communities in the US have spoken out against the deportation plan.