Israel Reaches Deal With UN to Deport Asylum Seekers to West, Not Africa

Israel canceled its mass deportation plan for asylum seekers after announcing Monday it has reached understanding with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. According to the deal, at least 16,000 asylum seekers will be absorbed by Western countries. Canada is expected to be one of the main Western countries to absorb the asylum seekers.

There are currently 39,000 asylum seekers from Sudan and Eritrea living in Israel. 

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Netanyahu will speak at 4 P.M. Israel time. According to an announcement from the Prime Minister’s Office, Netanyahu and Interior Minister Arye Dery were compelled to cancel the mass deportation plan to Uganda and Rwanda "because of legal considerations and political difficulties on behalf of third-party countries." The announcement added that the deal was approved by Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit and meets the standard of international law.

Netanyahu’s statement added that Israel will also work to address the status of some of the asylum seekers in Israel. The agreement "will allow for a larger number of immigrants to leave Israel than the previous plan, and [this will be done] under the auspices of the UN and the international community." 

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The new plan, the announcement added, will be implemented in three phases over five years. A special body will also be established to improve the living conditions in south Tel Aviv. 

Those who will be absorbed by Western countries will be allowed to work in Israel until they leave. Those who stay will be granted legal status, a visa and eventual residency status. 

In addition, efforts will be made to "encourage a more balanced geographic distribution of the populations who will remain in Israel, while providing vocational advising and professional training."

The Movement to Halt the Deportation of Asylum Seekers stated that stopping the move was an achievement for which hundreds of thousands of Israelis could take credit, for calling on the government not to expel refugees to an uncertain future.

"This agreement would not have happened without dozens of organizations and the contribution of numerous people," the movement stated, adding that Israel now has the opportunity to make amends, forge a responsible policy, place the asylum seekers around for absorption – and to treat requests for asylum seriously – and fix up the neighborhoods of south Tel Aviv where tens of thousands of asylum seekers were sent.

Shula Keshet, a resident of south Tel Aviv who helped found the activist movement "South Tel Aviv Against Deportation," stated that she is glad the government and UN refugees representation reached their "historic" agreement, "which means the government won’t be expelling our neighbors in south Tel Aviv to an unknown future."

The south of the city needs renovation and asylum seekers remaining in Tel Aviv need to be given residency permits and rights, she said.

Not all were pleased with the developments. Shlomo Maslawi, chairman of the Tikva neighborhood committee and Tel Aviv city council, commented that the agreement is a "disaster that will reverberate for generations and will cause irreversible damage to the nation." He accused the government of "pulling a fast one" at the expense of the residents of south Tel Aviv, having vowed to involve them in any decision – but never doing so. "Their contempt for the residents screams to the skies," Maslawi said.

In practice, Maslawi said, "we expect that the solution found for the roughly 16,000 infiltrators will also be found for the other infiltrators. All the talk about formalizing their status, distributing them around the country and rebuilding south Tel Aviv is empty talk. The neighborhoods of south Tel Aviv will have no hope, no peace, no safety for the people living there."

Mickey Gitzin of the New Israel Fund said that it is a day of triumph for civil organizations and the Israeli public who had fought hard against the deportation, and said the NIF applauds the Israeli government for the move. Happily, after years of struggle, "we succeeded," Gitzin said, adding that Passover- the "holiday of freedom" – is a superlative time to transfer funds that had been earmarked for deportation to, instead, investment in south Tel Aviv.