Israel made an agreement with the Rwandan government to deport African asylum seekers in exchange for $5,000 per head, Israeli media reported.
The agreement includes around 40,000 African asylum seekers, mostly Eritreans and Sudanese, who crossed into Israel through Egypt’s Sinai in the past 10 years.
Using the term “infiltrators” to refer to these Africans, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he had reached “stage three” of a plan to remove all asylum seekers.
“Regarding infiltrators, we will discuss one of the aspects of this topic at the cabinet meeting,” Netanyahu said. “Our policy towards infiltrators is three staged: Stage one is halting. We built a fence and enacted laws that completely blocked the flow of infiltrators and today we have zero infiltrators. Second stage is removal. We removed approximately 20,000 out of the existing infiltrators using various measures. Stage three is increased removal.”
Israel refused to respond to the demands of these Africans and to recognize them as political refugees. They established a detention center in the Negev called Holot, while the right-wing authorities chased them in their places of residence and tried to prevent them from working. Under this constant pressure, the government offered them to leave the country voluntarily, for $ 3,500 each.
Netanyahu added that Israel can now deport asylum seekers without their consent, as they are no longer required to sign a document authorizing their deportation, a controversial practice done in the past and known as “voluntary deportation,” in which Africans were sent to third-party countries Rwanda and Uganda. Refugee groups have alleged the deportations were coerced; the refugees faced imprisonment in Israel, or deportation.
“This removal is enabled thanks to an international agreement I achieved, which allows us to remove the 40,000 remaining infiltrators without their consent,” Netanyahu continued. “This is very important. It will enable us later to make the ‘Holot’ facility unnecessary and to use part of the vast resources we allocate there for inspectors and increased removal. That is why we are succeeding here. But our goal is to continue removing significantly more then what we have until now.”
In a related development Sunday, the cabinet unanimously approved a proposal by Interior Minister Arye Dery and Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan that is to shut down the Holot detention center within four months. At Holot asylum seekers may leave during the day, but must return by evening to be locked behind Holot’s gates.
“For years we have been saying the Holot detention facility was not built for a proper purpose, it is meant to break the spirits of asylum seekers [and force us] to leave,” said refugee organizer Mutasim Ali from Darfur on social media. Ali is the first and only Sudanese national who was granted asylum by Israel in a surprise move in 2016. Before receiving his protective status he resided in Holot prison for one year.