The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees on Tuesday expressed “disappointment” at Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s decision to scrap an agreement on resettling thousands of African migrants following tough domestic criticism, and urged him to “reconsider” it.
“It is with disappointment that UNHCR notes today’s cancellation by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of the Israel-UNHCR agreement of April 2 on solutions for Eritreans and Sudanese currently in Israel,” the UN agency said in a statement.
The UN refugee agency said the deal was negotiated over “an extended period of time.”
“UNHCR continues to believe that a win-win agreement that would both benefit Israel and people needing asylum is in everyone’s best interests,” it said. “And we encourage the Government of Israel to consider the matter further, while standing ready to be of help.”
Hours after announcing the agreement himself in a televised address on Monday afternoon, Netanyahu changed course, suspending it, and on Tuesday he canceled it after facing pressure from his right-wing base.
“Every year I make thousands of decisions benefiting the State of Israel and Israeli citizens. Occasionally a decision is reached that has to be reconsidered,” he said Tuesday at a meeting with anti-migrant activists from south Tel Aviv, where many of the migrants reside.
As the meeting began, Education Minister Naftali Bennett, who leads the right-wing Jewish Home party, tweeted that the temporary halt was not enough.
“The agreement with the United Nations to absorb the infiltrators is bad for Israel,” he said. “It is not enough to freeze it. I call on the prime minister to cancel it entirely.”
The agreement was designed to end the possibility of forced deportations of thousands of migrants from Israel to Rwanda. Under the agreement, a minimum of 16,250 migrants would have instead been resettled in Western nations.
In return, Israel would grant temporary residency to an equal number of migrants.
The presence of the primarily Sudanese and Eritrean migrants in Israel has become a key political issue.
Israel’s 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.