Israel suspends plans to deport African asylum seekers


JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israel has suspended a plan to deport tens of thousands of African migrants after failing to find a third country willing to accept them.

On Tuesday, the government told the country’s Supreme Court that it will stop issuing expulsion orders to Eritrean and Sudanese asylum seekers, and that all orders already served will be rescinded.

“Forcibly deporting to a third country is not an option at this stage,” the state said in a filing with the court. “(N)o more deportation decisions will be made at this time.”

The asylum seekers will have to renew their visas every 60 days as they did before the deportation plan.

The government’s statement filed with the court also said that “Israel will continue to act on the issue of the infiltrators including attempts to encourage them to leave on their own accord or relocating them involuntarily, in accordance with the law. Israel’s immigration officials will continue to refer infiltrators to the ‘voluntary departure’ office, allowing them to relocate to a third country, but without conditioning the renewal of their legal status of their willingness to leave to a third country.”

Following the announcement in court, the Prime Minister’s Office issued a statement saying that Israel will reopen detention centers for the migrants.

Israel had been negotiating with Uganda to take the deportees. There are some 38,000 African asylum seekers in Israel that the government had planned to deport under a plan announced in January. Under the plan, migrants who had chosen to leave by March 31 would receive a payment of $3,500 as well as free airfare and other incentives.

Last week, some 207 African migrants and asylum seekers were released over several hours from the Saharonim Prison in southern Israel, where they have been held after refusing to leave Israel voluntarily. The release was ordered by the court after the government failed to come up with a signed agreement with Uganda to take the deportees.

Netanyahu on April 2 announced a plan with the United Nations to process half of the migrants through regularized refugee channels over five years, leaving the other half in Israel with undetermined status, and then reversed himself several hours later after criticism from the right wing in Israel, including in his own government.

The plan to deport the migrants had prompted an outcry from migrant advocates in Israel and a broad swath of the U.S. Jewish organizational community.

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