Israel is suspending a deal to resettle 16,000 African migrants to Western countries — hours after signing it

source
Ilia Yefimovich/Getty Images

  • Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday that he would be suspending an already-signed agreement reached with the United Nations to resettle over 16,000 African migrants to Western countries.
  • Israel and UNHCR announced the terms of the deal hours earlier.
  • Previously, Israel planned to forcibly remove its asylum seekers by deporting them to a third country in Africa by April 1.
  • Earlier this year, Israel offered its citizens cash bonuses to help remove African migrants from the country.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday that he would be suspending an already-signed agreement reached to resettle thousands of African refugees to Western countries.

Netanyahu’s office put out a statement earlier on Monday, announcing it had reached a 5-year agreement with the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) to move 16,250 migrants and refugees to Western countries, which included Canada, Germany, and Italy. In exchange, Israel would give “temporary residence” to an equal number of migrants in Israel.

Germany’s embassy in Israel told Israeli-daily Haaretz that they had not received a request by the UN or the Israeli government and Italy’s foreign ministry issued a similar statement to a national newspaper.

And hours after announcing the deal, Netanyahu took to Facebook to announce he was was “suspending the implementation of the agreement.”

Netanyahu added that would “reexamine” the agreement with “representatives” from neighborhoods in south Tel Aviv, which is home to many migrants and asylum seekers, frustrating the local Israeli population.

Reports indicate that the UNHCR plan angered Netanyahu’s coalition partners, which led the prime minister to suspend the deal.

The UNHCR, which released a press release about the deal on Monday, has not issued a statement since Netanyahu’s Facebook post.

The UN agreement replaced a controversial plan to forcibly remove male asylum seekers to a third country in Africa, reported to be Rwanda or Uganda, if they did not leave Israel voluntarily. Israel’s Supreme Court blocked the planned deportations scheduled for April 1, leading Israel to negotiate with the UN.

Netanyahu claimed in his Facebook post that the initial forced deportation plan failed because Rwanda withdrew its offer to take in deported asylum seekers.

In January, the Israeli government offered cash bonuses to citizens who signed up to help remove African migrants from the country.

Israel’s Population, Immigration and Border Authority estimates that there were roughly 26,600 Eritreans and 7,600 Sudanese in Israel at the end of 2017.