Netanyahu has said under the new deal signed with “UN, Germany, Canada and Italy” are among Western countries to absorb African asylum seekers deported by Israel. But according to Haaretz, German officials have denied this, stating that they were not asked by Netanyahu, to receive asylum seekers from Israel.
Is this another Israeli PR stunt?
Israel has scrapped a plan to force thousands of African asylum seekers to choose between deportation and an indefinite spell in jail, striking a deal instead to resettle many in western countries including Canada, Italy and Germany.
The prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, said Israel had reached “unprecedented understandings” with the UN refugee agency to send more than 16,000 migrants and refugees to western countries that were willing to take them.
In exchange, Israel has indicated it will regularise the legal status of many of those remaining.
Israel’s original deportation plan, which envisaged many asylum seekers being sent to third countries in Africa in exchange for cash payments, had run into serious problems including Rwanda and Uganda’s refusal to accept the refugees after they learned that the deportations could happen by force.
The plan was halted temporarily last month by Israel’s supreme court after challenges to its legality following a demonstration by 25,000 people in Tel Aviv.
An estimated 40,000 African migrants and refugees, mainly from Eritrea and Sudan, reside in Israel, many in neighbourhoods in south Tel Aviv, and they have become the focus of a long-running and often toxic political debate about their future.
The optics of black asylum seekers accusing the country of racism turned into a public relations liability for Israel, and groups of Israeli doctors, academics, poets, Holocaust survivors, rabbis and pilots appealed to halt the plan.
The asylum seekers themselves – including many who claim to be deserters from Eritrean military conscription – have long argued it is unsafe for them return to their countries of origin, while Israel has said it has no responsibility to host them.
Welcoming the decision to shelve the plan, the Movement to Halt the Deportation of Asylum Seekers said: “This agreement would not have happened without dozens of organisations and the contribution of numerous people.
“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 neighbourhoods of south Tel Aviv where tens of thousands of asylum seekers were sent.”
Condemning the deal, however, a group of residents of south Tel Aviv called it “a shame for the state of Israel”.
Many of the migrants and refugees started arriving at Israel’s southern border with Egypt after 2005. Tens of thousands crossed the desert border before Israel completed a barrier in 2012 that stopped the influx.
Netanyahu took a personal stake in a hardline approach after he made a highly publicised visit to meet Israeli residents of south Tel Aviv and promised to take action.
Speaking at press conference with Netanyahu, Israel’s interior minister, Arye Dery, said the UN would help to resettle one asylum seeker in a western country for every asylum seeker to whom Israel provided temporary residency status.
Netanyahu said: “I went to the neighbourhoods in south Tel Aviv. I saw the suffering of the Israelis living there and we said that we have to remove the problem. But because the supreme court has banned us from moving them to a country they do not want to go to, we had to find another solution.”
The left-leaning Meretz party welcomed the U-turn. “The word ‘infiltrators’ has left the lexicon. The government has finally understood the need to absorb refugees,” it said. “The international refugee crisis is real and serious, and the propagandists who tried to make it seem differently should apologise today.”
Update (April 3rd):
Breaking: As we thought, Israel bluffed! Netanyahu suspended the asylum seeker deal with UN hours after the first announcement, due to “right-wing pushback.”
This is a common tactic the Occupation uses. By releasing a statement in MSM that people will remember and then either retracting the statement later when nobody is paying attention, or changing course. Generally people will remember the first statement which gets more MSM coverage.
This is an attempt by Israeli leaders to mitigate awareness of this outstanding violation of international law and rights of refugees.