Netanyahu suspends UN deal on African migrants in Israel

World Today

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) and Interior Minister Arye Deri are seen ahead of speaking to the press at the MP’s Jerusalem office on April 2, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / Menahem KAHANA)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at least temporarily suspended a deal with the United Nations refugee agency that would have relocated around 16,000 African asylum seekers, while granting a temporary status to about the same number. Netanyahu said on Facebook that he would meet with residents in South Tel Aviv on Tuesday to hear there concerns.

The announcement of the deal with the UNHCR just hours earlier followed months of pressure on Israel’s government to halt jail sentences and deportations for tens of thousands of Sudanese and Eritrean asylum seekers.

“It’s a good agreement, I’m very glad that we achieved it with the U.N. commissioner on refugees,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had said. “It enables us to solve this problem in a way that protects the interests of the state of Israel.”

Activists, human rights lawyers and African community leaders claimed victory, saying months of demonstrations, appeals and social media campaigns succeeded. Israel’s original plan was to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda or Uganda, and jail anyone refusing deportation.

According to the terms of the deal, resettlement would take place in stages during a five year period. Destination countries include Italy, Germany and Canada.