The Israeli official in charge of organizing the upcoming deportation of African migrants from the country said Sunday that he faces immense pressure to quit and considers it “every day.”
Shlomo Mor-Yosef, director-general of the Population and Immigration Authority, told Hadashot TV news that he has frequently considered resigning amid growing opposition to the deportations, but felt that by remaining in his position he could have a positive impact on the migrants, particularly in ensuring their medical and social service needs are met.
Mor-Yosef is a doctor by profession and has been pressured by his fellow medical professionals to take a moral stand and quit, he said.
“If tomorrow, I resign, every one will praise me as moral, according to their values,” he said.
He acknowledged that he considers quitting “all the time.”
“I ask myself all the time what value I add to the role I’m in,” he said.
He also maintained that not all of the African migrants slated for deportation will actually be expelled from the country, even as a poll indicated widespread support for the move in Israel.
“I don’t think we’ll remove them all from here,” Mor-Yosef said. “I don’t think there is either such an intention or ability.”
He was mum, however, when asked what will happen to those who remain in Israel.
Mor-Yosef’s comments came as the issue of African migrants has drawn increased attention, since the Knesset’s approval last month of an amendment to the so-called “Infiltrator’s Law” that paves the way for the forced deportations of Eritrean and Sudanese migrants and asylum seekers starting in March. It also makes legal the indefinite imprisonment of those who refuse to leave “voluntarily.”
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. Many live in south Tel Aviv, and some residents and activists blame them for rising crime rates and have lobbied the government for their deportation.
The amendment has gained international attention and is fraught with controversy.
Despite criticism of the deportation plan from Israeli rights activists and Jewish communities in the US, a Channel 10 poll released Sunday indicated that a majority of Israelis support expelling African migrants from the country.
Asked if they support the government’s decision to deport the migrants, 56% of respondents said yes, 32% said no and another 12% said they did not know.
Despite a majority supporting deportation, only 44% said they would be in favor of forcibly removing the migrants, as compared to 46% who said they opposed doing so. Another 10% of respondents said they did not know.
Earlier Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told ministers that Rwanda is a fitting deportation destination for African asylum seekers, as the United Nations is already taking care of nearly two hundred thousand refugees in the African state.
At the opening of a meeting of Likud party ministers, Netanyahu addressed Israel’s plans to deport tens of thousands of African migrants to a third country.
“There are 180,000 refugees sitting there under the protection of the UN, so the claims that it is dangerous are a joke,” Netanyahu said of Rwanda.
Last week, at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Netanyahu met with Rwandan President Paul Kagame and agreed to a demand that his country would only accept the asylum seekers Israel is looking to deport if the move were made in accordance with international law.
JTA contributed to this report.