JERUSALEM (JTA) — More than 20,000 protested against a government plan to deport African asylum seekers from Eritrea and Sudan to a third country in Africa during a rally in Tel Aviv.
The rally in Rabin Square was organized by NGOs and Sudanese and Eritrean groups, as well as the Stop the Deportation movement and the South Tel Aviv against the Deportation group, the Jerusalem Post reported. Several asylum seekers spoke at the rally, and spoke of the persecution they faced in Eritrea and Sudan.
Signs read: “Stop the deportations!” “South Tel Aviv is against the deportations,” and “We shall neither expel nor kill the stranger and refugee.”
The deportations were scheduled to begin on April 1, during the Passover holiday. But Israel’s Supreme Court has halted the deportations until it reviews a petition filed against the practice. The government has until March 26 to respond to the petition against deportations.
Israel’s Cabinet in January approved a plan and the budget to deport thousands of migrants from Sudan and Eritrea.
Prior to that, the Population and Immigration Authority notified the migrants that as of Jan. 1, they must return to their own countries or to a third nation, or be sent to jail until they are deported. According to the government plan, migrants who choose to leave by March 31 will receive a payment of $3,500 as well as free airfare and other incentives, according to reports.
For now, deportation notices will not be issued to women, children, fathers of children, anyone recognized as a victim of slavery or human trafficking, and those who had requested asylum by the end of 2017 but have not received a response, Haaretz reported.
There are up to 40,000 Eritreans and Sudanese living in Israel, including 5,000 children.
Human rights activists in Israel and major U.S. Jewish organizations have urged the Israeli government not to go ahead with the plan to force the migrants to choose between jail and deportation.