Israel forces out 120 South Sudanese

2012-06-17 18:25
Refugee children touch hands through bus's window. (Oren Ziv, AFP)

Refugee children touch hands through bus's window. (Oren Ziv, AFP)

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Jerusalem - Israel was forcing 120 South Sudanese to leave the country on Sunday, starting what was to be a mass deportation of thousands of unauthorised African migrants who have poured into the Jewish state.

About 60 000 impoverished Africans, most from Eritrea and Sudan, have slipped into Israel across its southern border with Egypt since 2005, fleeing repressive regimes and seeking work.

The influx has caused friction with Israeli locals and several incidents recently turned violent.

Authorities, alarmed by the swelling numbers, say the migrants are a burden on the economy and threaten to undermine Israel's Jewish character.

Facing a public uproar, the government launched a campaign last week to round up and expel migrants from South Sudan and other countries that have friendly relations with Israel, and therefore would be expected to treat returning citizens well.

In all, it hopes to expel 4 500 Africans.

In reality, the operation will only make a small dent in the total number of migrants.

Under an international treaty, Israel cannot deport those from Sudan, an enemy state, or to Eritrea, a country with a miserable human rights record, because they could face harm if they return to their homelands.

Still flooding in

In addition, other Africans continue to flood into Israel.

Interior ministry spokesperson Sabine Haddad said that while Israeli authorities rounded up about 300 people over the past week, about 260 more Africans entered Israel illegally.

Haddad said the people leaving on Sunday had agreed to go after being threatened with arrest.

In all, more than 500 agreed to leave within the past week, and another flight is scheduled for next week, she said.

Adults who sign the voluntary departure form will receive $1 300) apiece to help them resettle, and minors will be given $650 each, she said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has called the migrants "a national scourge", told his cabinet on Sunday that the government has stopped allowing migrants to enter Israeli cities. Instead, they are to be arrested at the border and put into detention.

"Jews have a tradition of treating foreigners humanely, and even when we have to remove them from within our midst out of a state's desire to rule its borders, we shall do it humanely and express ourselves with restraint and humanity," he said.

A detention cenrtre the government had approved more than a year ago to hold thousands of migrants has not been completed, though Israel is working to build a fence along the Egyptian border meant to keep out both migrants and militants.

In addition to the detention center, it plans to build a tent city to hold 20 000 other migrants.

- AP
Read more on:    benjamin netanyahu  |  israel
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