Israel begins deporting Africans

2012-06-17 14:00
African migrants protected by Israeli border police, background, look on to an anti-African migrant protest, not seen, in Tel Aviv, Israel. (Ariel Schalit, AP)

African migrants protected by Israeli border police, background, look on to an anti-African migrant protest, not seen, in Tel Aviv, Israel. (Ariel Schalit, AP)

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Tel Aviv - Israel was to begin on Sunday the deportation of dozens of South Sudanese nationals, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said, as part of a campaign attempting to deal with an influx of African migrants.

Over the past few years, the number of African migrants in Israel has reached about 60 000, the vast majority of whom live in the poorer quarters of south Tel Aviv.

The first plane with 120 migrants was scheduled to take off from Tel Aviv to the South Sudanese capital of Juba Sunday evening, Netanyahu told his cabinet. Another plane would take off next week.

The influx has in recent weeks sparked increasing tensions with locals, to which the right-wing Netanyahu government has responded by announcing deportations, quicker construction of a fence along the border with Egypt and increased fines for Israelis who employ illegal migrants.

About two-third of the estimated 60 000 migrants are from Eritrea and cannot be sent home, under a UN ruling that they are entitled to asylum.

Many of the rest are from South Sudan, so authorities in Israel have focused on them, arguing that the nascent central African state is now safe.

A social time bomb

A Jerusalem District Court decision earlier this month rejected a petition by Israeli human rights groups to bar the expulsion of South Sudanese migrants, paving the way for the deportation of some 1 500.

Detentions began last week under the code-name "Operation Returning Home."

So far, more than 300 have been detained, while another 300 have agreed to leave voluntarily, Israel Migration Authority spokesperson Sabin Hadad told dpa on Sunday, in return for a plane ticket and a grant of $1 260 each.

Tel Aviv Deputy Mayor Asaaf Zamir has described the situation in his city as "a social time bomb," saying between one to two thousand migrants have been arriving in Tel Aviv each month. Although the city does what it can to provide social services "the number has become too big to handle," he told journalists last week.

But right-wing politicians have come under fire for making remarks interpreted as being xenophobic, especially lawmaker Miri Regev of the ruling Likud party, who called the migration problem a "cancer."

Her comments were made at an anti-migrant rally in south Tel Aviv late last month, which turned violent.

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