The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) urged Israel on Tuesday to halt plans to forcibly return tens of thousands of migrants to Africa.
Last Wednesday, Israel said it would pay money to thousands of illegal African migrants to leave, and threatened them with prison if they were caught after the end of March, AFP reported.
The plan is targeting an estimated 38,000 people, mainly from Eritrea and Sudan, and offers the migrants $3,500 and a plane ticket if they leave by March.
AFP quoted UNHCR spokesman William Spindler as telling reporters in Geneva that the Israeli program was not “coherent” and “has been implemented not in a very transparent manner.”
“UNHCR is again appealing to Israel to halt its policy of relocating Eritreans and Sudanese to sub-Saharan Africa,” the agency said in a statement.
Spindler called on Israel to find alternative solutions to the problem, stressing that the UN was ready to help with formal resettlement through official channels.
He warned that the plans might ultimately target families and individuals whose applications for asylum have not been decided, or that asylum seekers might be taken to the airport handcuffed.
Spindler added that around 27,000 Eritreans and 7,700 Sudanese were living in Israel, but the authorities said they have granted asylum to only 11 of them since 2009.
He explained that over the past two years, UNHCR has interviewed 80 Eritrean refugees or asylum seekers in Rome, who arrived in Italy after a risky trip across Africa after leaving Israel for Rwanda.
“They suffered from abuse, torture and extortion all the way, before they risked their lives once again to cross the Mediterranean into Italy,” he said.