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Israel to begin deporting African asylum seekers within 'weeks'

African migrants pour out of the Holot Detention Centre in Israel's Negev desert after their release on August 25, 2015
Menahem Kahana (AFP)

The Israeli government announced Tuesday that it will begin deporting African asylum seekers from the country in the coming weeks.

The announcement was made by attorney Shosh Shmueli of the State Prosecutor’s Office during a hearing before the High Court of Justice on a petition filed by human rights groups against a law that requires asylum seekers to deposit 20 percent of their earnings into an account that is accessible only after leaving Israel.

Shmueli told a panel of seven High Court justices that within “weeks” the government will begin implementing deportation “agreements”, referring to under-the-radar deals struck with Rwanda and Uganda to accept deportees which have not been formally acknowledged by the Israeli government.

Israel's cabinet voted in November to close the Holot migrant detention center in southern Israel, as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced an agreement to deport 40,000 Africans who entered the country illegally despite concerns about their fate.

AFP/Menachem Kahana)

The decision gives migrants and asylum seekers a three-month deadline to leave the country or face deportation. The deportation applies only to African migrants from Eritrea and Sudan who entered Israel illegally and who have had asylum applications rejected by the government.

It does not apply to migrants from Darfur, a tacit acknowledgement of the dangers there. It also does not apply to those migrants whose asylum applications are underway or processing.

It has been widely reported that deported migrants will be accepted by Rwanda, although the government has not confirmed this.

Rwanda's foreign affairs minister said in a November interview with the country’s New Times newspaper that negotiations are ongoing with Israel as to how to ensure the livelihoods, shelter, and general welfare needs of some 10,000 asylum seekers the country plans to take in.

Jack Guez (AFP/File)

Rwanda's authoritarian president Paul Kagame has already taken thousands of "voluntary" returnees from Israel, under the auspices of a murky agreement that has never been made public.

The UN’s refugee agency have said they are worried by the fate of migrants who will be forcibly transferred to the small African state, saying in a statement that many of those who have already gone "have not found adequate safety or a durable solution to their plight and that many have subsequently attempted dangerous onward movements within Africa or to Europe."

Many of those who have taken the "Rwanda option" in recent years told activists that they were whisked through the country's international airport without their passports being stamped, and put up in a hotel before being shuttled into Uganda in the dead of the night.

Israeli official figures from June 30 show a total of 38,043 African migrants in the country. They include 27,494 Eritreans and 7,869 Sudanese, and their presence in south Tel Aviv has raised discontent among Israelis there and elsewhere.

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