The Jewish Agency on Tuesday urged the government not to deport some 500 young African migrants who came to Israel as minors and have been integrated into society.
In a letter, the board urged Interior Minister Aryeh Deri to grant them a legal status in Israel, saying they had come as unaccompanied minors and had been “integrated in the education system of youth villages operated by The Jewish Agency and the Ministry of Education.”
“These youngsters have grown up in an Israeli educational environment, speak fluent Hebrew, are imbued with Israeli culture, and are loyal to the State of Israel,” the agency said. “Therefore, it is right that they be granted legal status.”
Israel recently launched a campaign to deport unmarried male migrants to third-party countries (widely reported to be Rwanda and Uganda) with jail time facing those who refuse to go. The Africans, nearly all from dictatorial Eritrea and war-torn Sudan, say they fled for their lives and face renewed danger if they return. The vast majority arrived between 2006 and 2012.
The Jewish Agency also called on the government to ensure “every migrant has an opportunity to apply for asylum and receive transparent due process in the examination of their application.”
Approximately half of the 38,000 asylum seekers could be deported under the plan. Women, married men, and children will not be deported under “the first stage” of the deportations, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said.
The expulsion policy, which offers each migrant $3,500 and a plane ticket, has been condemned by 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.
Israel considers the vast majority of them to be job seekers and says it has no legal obligation to keep them. Israeli officials commonly refer to them as “infiltrators.”
People with open asylum applications cannot be deported before the applications are resolved. At this point, women and children are also not under threat of deportation.
On Saturday night thousands of people in Tel Aviv rallied against the planned deportation of the African asylum seekers and migrants.
In recent weeks, groups of Israeli pilots, doctors, writers, former ambassadors, American Jewish leaders, and Holocaust survivors have appealed to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to halt the deportation plan, warning it was unethical and would cause grave damage to Israel’s self-described image as a light unto the nations.