Israel will cancel plans to expel asylum seekers to third-party countries in Africa after reaching an “unprecedented” deal with the United Nations, the Prime Minister’s Office announced Monday.
According to the agreement, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees will work to find homes in Western countries for at least 16,250 of the asylum seekers in Israel, while Israel will agree to give temporary status to the remainder — also estimated at around 16,250. The US, Canada, Sweden, Italy and Germany were reported to be among the countries to take in the migrants.
The PMO said most of those who will stay would have remained in Israel in any event.
The new deal is to be phased in over the next five years in three stages, though the PMO did not specify the details.
The new plan, under the auspices of the United Nations, will replace the previous plan, which had been due to go into effect Sunday, which was to expel the migrants to unnamed third-party countries, believed to be Rwanda and Uganda — although both have denied involvement in the plan.
The earlier deportation policy, which offered each migrant $3,500 and a plane ticket, had been condemned by Israeli activists and the United Nations as chaotic, poorly executed, and unsafe. Asylum seekers previously deported to Uganda and Rwanda have told the Times of Israel they faced serious danger and even imprisonment after arriving in Africa without proper documents.
The Supreme Court froze the deportations in mid-March in response to a petition.
The PMO said that the new plan had been approved by the attorney general and was in keeping with international law and practice.
At the same time the PMO announced a special committee, headed by former Kadima MK Avigdor Yitzhaki, to improve the quality of life in south Tel Aviv, where many of the asylum seekers live.
In addition, as part of the deal, the government will focus on providing occupational guidance, vocational training and other assistance to the migrants to help them integrate into Israel. It will also work to disperse them around the country, so that they will not be concentrated in a single area.
Human rights activists in Israel and major US Jewish organizations had long urged the Israeli government not to go ahead with its plan to force the migrants to choose between jail and deportation.