Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has taken an U-turn on his decision to send thousands of migrants to three Western countries after saying that the deal would be re-examined.
He was criticized by members of his coalition and citizens of Tel Aviv community where large migrant community stays.
According the plan, which was drafted with the cooperation of United Nations Refugee Agency, Israel was to send at least 16,250 migrants to Canada, Italy and Germany. Netanyahu had earlier said that the agreement was the result of an “unprecedented understanding” with the UNHCR.
The plan allowed thousands of other African migrants to stay in Isreal. There are approximately 37,000 illegal immigrants in Israel, the majority from Eritrea or Sudan, according to the Population and Immigration Authority.
The agreement with the UNHCR had been an attempt to address criticism of an even earlier plan, in which migrants would be offered $3,500 and an airplane ticket to leave for a sub-Saharan African country. Uganda and Rwanda were widely reported by the Israeli media as potential host countries.
The human rights groups challenged the plan at the country’s High Court and even got a temporary stay order and blocked its implementation.
Many of the migrants from Sudan fled from war and poverty. In Eritrea, they escaped a brutal dictatorship that conscripts men and women into the military for life.
Most of them seeking refuge entered Israel. However, in 2013, getting into the country became tough as Israel completed a fence running the length of the Sinai border, halting the flow of illegal migrants there almost immediately.
At its highest point, there were some 65,000 illegal immigrants in Israel. Over the past decade, the Population and Immigration Authority says it has received 54,600 requests for asylum. Only 33 have been accepted. Tens of thousands remain mired in the bureaucratic process, though Israeli leaders say they have added staff to clear the backlog.
That makes Israel’s rate the lowest in granting asylum in the Western world. In comparison, through the first three quarters of 2017, nearly 90% of asylum seekers in the European Union were granted refugee status, according to a compilation of data from Eurostat, the EU’s data compilation site. More than 60% of asylum seekers from Sudan were granted similar status.