Despite his shocking statement of April 2, Benjamin Netanyahu decided to reconsider the agreement with the UN that Israel expelled some of its African migrants to “developed countries such as Germany and Italy.”
On April 2, just hours after it was announced, the Jewish state unexpectedly suspended an agreement with the UN to address the plight of thousands of African migrants living in Israel.
This agreement provides for the resettlement of more than 16,000 Sudanese and Eritreans residing in Israel to Western countries. In exchange, Israel promised to give a residence permit to an equivalent number of them to remain in its territory.
“I decided to suspend the application of this agreement and to rethink its terms,” wrote Benjamin Netanyahou on his Facebook page on the evening of April 2, claiming to have been attentive to the criticism of some residents of Tel Aviv, where most of these migrants live, against this agreement.
Some of these people denounced the fact that thousands of Sudanese and Eritreans were allowed to stay in Israel.
— RT France (@RTenfrancais) April 2, 2018
“I am attentive to the critics and I will meet your representatives tomorrow morning,” said Benjamin Netanyahu, who last year promised residents to “return the south of Tel Aviv to the citizens of Israel.”
Israeli political class worries
The suspension of the agreement with the UN, announced with great fanfare the same day, surprised the political class.
Labor MP Itzik Shmouli (opposition) spoke on Twitter about “the headache caused by Netanyahu’s zigzags”, while his party leader Avi Gabbay described the announcement as “worrying”.
The agreement with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) was to replace a highly controversial government project of evictions, officially canceled on 2 April.
UNHCR did not give details of the host countries, but the Israeli prime minister quoted “developed countries like Canada, Germany and Italy”.
The countries that were supposed to receive these migrants did not seem to know …
There is “no agreement” with Italy in the document signed between Israel and UNHCR for the resettlement of these migrants, however, responded the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The German Ministry of the Interior, for its part, said that it was “not aware of a concrete demand for the care of refugees living in Israel, especially from African countries.”
The Israeli government initially planned to give thousands of African migrants in its territory the choice to leave by early April – either for their country of origin or for a third country – or to go prison indefinitely.
This project has been widely criticized, including by UNHCR and NGOs. In recent weeks, protests have brought tens of thousands of people to various cities in the country, including Holocaust survivors, demanding the withdrawal of the project.
According to the Israeli authorities, 42,000 African migrants live in Israel, but women and children were not affected by the plan.
Rwanda did not want either
These migrants arrived mostly after 2007 from Egyptian Sinai. The porous border with Egypt has since been rendered virtually hermetic. They settled in numbers south of Tel Aviv.
Israel tacitly admitted that it could not send these thousands of Eritreans and Sudanese back home without putting their lives at risk. The Eritrean government has been accused by the UN of “widespread and systematic” crimes against humanity.
The Israeli government had therefore imagined sending them back to a third country that he had never appointed until today. Benjamin Netanyahu revealed on the evening of April 2 that it was Rwanda who refused to host “African clandestine”.
“In order to expel them legally, we needed the agreement of a third country and when we saw in recent weeks that this option no longer existed, we had to find another solution,” Benjamin Netanyahu said.
Israel: a “paradise for the stowaways”?
Israeli Education Minister Naftali Bennett of the Jewish Foyer nationalist religious party denounced the agreement with the UN, which he said “means that Israel will turn into a haven for illegal immigrants.”
Finance Minister Moché Kalhlon, one of the pillars of the coalition, said that “the government must come together and decide on a new trajectory on this subject”.