JERUSALEM (JTA) — Hundreds of South Sudanese migrants and their Israeli supporters protested in Tel Aviv against the migrants’ imminent deportation to their fledgling country.
The demonstration Saturday night was met with a counter protest by city residents.
Tens of thousands of migrants from Africa — asylum seekers and those seeking to better themselves economically — have entered Israel illegally though Egypt in recent years. Up to 3,000 of the migrants are reported to be from South Sudan, according to Israel’s Population, Immigration and Borders Authority.
South Sudanese nationals have been offered about $1,300 and a plane ticket if they leave voluntarily before the March 31 deadline.
Protesters said they believed that the lives of returning South Sudanese migrants would be in danger if they returned now to their country, which declared independence last July.
Last week, some 400 Israeli writers, academics and other public figures sent a petition to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asking him to stop the deportation, saying it would expose the refugees, many of them children, "to a raging war, hunger and disease."
Israel recognized South Sudan last July 10, a day after it declared independence from Sudan. The countries established full diplomatic relations two weeks later.