Operation ‘Returning Home’ heats up with over 100 detentions

An estimated 1,500 South Sudanese nationals are slated to be asked to leave Israel or be deported forcibly

South Sudan refugees leaving their homes on Monday (photo credit: Tali Mayer/Flash90)
South Sudan refugees leaving their homes on Monday (photo credit: Tali Mayer/Flash90)

Population, Immigration and Borders Authority officers have rounded up over 100 suspected illegal refugees as of Tuesday morning, as part of operation “Returning Home,” aimed at deporting South Sudanese refugees residing illegally in Israel.

Government sources told Ynet that 115 illegal immigrants have been detained ahead of deportation, of which 105 are South Sudanese citizens, two are Ghanaian, and the rest are from the Ivory Coast, Nigeria and the Philippines.

On June 7, a Jerusalem court approved the deportation of South Sudanese nationals who have entered the country illegally, paving the way for operation “Returning Home.” The Population and Immigration Authority announced shortly thereafter South Sudanese would have one week to turn themselves in and leave the country, or be deported by force.

During a recent Knesset discussion, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu learned that 2,700 spaces for inmates are vacant in Israeli prisons and detention facilities. Upon hearing this statistic the prime minister reportedly pounded on the desk and exclaimed, “Then why don’t you arrest all those who cross the border immediately?”

Immigration officials explained that such a move would require bureaucratic approval, but Netanyahu wasn’t convinced and said: “We passed a law that allows intruders to be detained for three years — so do it.”

There are around 1,500 South Sudanese in Israel, a small percentage of the estimated 60,000 Africans, mostly from Eritrea and Sudan proper, who have entered the country illegally. Interior Minister Eli Yishai (Shas), in a press release last week, expressed hope that the court would allow the deportation of migrants from Eritrea and Sudan as well.

Over the past month, tensions have been running particularly high between Israelis and illegal African migrants, resulting in large demonstrations and occasionally degenerating into violence, primarily in the Hatikvah neighborhood in south Tel Aviv.

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