Interior minister: 1,500 migrants to leave this month

Gideon Sa’ar says number of asylum seekers departing Israel voluntarily has doubled since January

Marissa Newman is The Times of Israel political correspondent.

African refugees arrive the "Holot" detention center in southern Israel on January 26, 2014 (photo credit: Flash90)
African refugees arrive the "Holot" detention center in southern Israel on January 26, 2014 (photo credit: Flash90)

An estimated 1,500 Eritrean and Sudanese migrants will leave Israel willingly in February, Interior Minister Gideon Sa’ar said on Tuesday.

“The increase in the number of [departing] infiltrators we have witnessed each month is dramatic,” Saar said, while touring the center in Eilat where migrants register for their exit. “In December — 325 infiltrators; in January the number rose to 765 infiltrators who left voluntarily; and as stated, we are expecting to double the number of people who departed voluntarily in January.”

The number of migrants exiting the country in February “is reminiscent of the number of infiltrators who entered Israel during the peak of illegal infiltration,” he added.

The Israeli government offers migrants grants amounting to $3,500 to leave the country of their own accord. The financial incentive, in addition to the “infiltration law” under which migrants can be held in detention centers in southern Israel for indeterminate periods, have urged some asylum seekers to leave the country.

In 2013, 2,612 asylum-seekers, 1,955 of whom were from Sudan or Eritrea, left Israel as part of a voluntary departure program, up from just 461 in 2012. There are currently upwards of 50,000 African migrants in Israel.

In early January, thousands of migrants took to the streets in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem to protest the government policies regarding the holding facilities and demand refugee status. After a week, the series of rallies and strikes ended largely unsuccessfully with government officials maintaining that the current legislation would not change.

The migrants have in the past week resumed their protests.

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