Israel suspends controversial plan to send African migrants West

22 2018 shows African migrants marching from the Holot detention centre to the Saharonim Prison an Israeli detention facility for African asylum seekers

22 2018 shows African migrants marching from the Holot detention centre to the Saharonim Prison an Israeli detention facility for African asylum seekers

Speaking at a news conference with Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Israeli interior minister Arye Dery said that following tough negotiations with the UNHCR, Israel had agreed to resettle one asylum seeker in a Western country for every asylum seeker awarded temporary residency status in Israel.

Canada is set to take in a number of African migrants from Israel, according to the United Nations refugee agency, but a late-in-the-day declaration from Israel's prime minister has put the fate of the deal in question.

The UNHCR said it would "facilitate the departure to third countries to be determined of some 16,000 Eritreans and Sudanese under various programmes, including sponsorship, resettlement, family reunion and labour migration schemes, while others will be receiving a suitable legal status in Israel".

It replaced a controversial plan to forcibly send male African migrants to Uganda and Rwanda.

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As the migrants could face danger or imprisonment if returned to their homelands, Israel offered to relocate them to an unnamed African country, which deportees and aid workers said was Rwanda or Uganda.

The new formula reportedly will take up to five years to implement, and will include a plan to improve the living conditions in southern Israel, as well as redistribute the African population throughout Israel.

The initial deportation was called off "because of legal considerations and diplomatic difficulties concerning third-party countries".

The plan, initially approved by the Israeli cabinet in November, has drawn concerns from the United Nations refugee agency, which called it incoherent and unsafe. But in 2013, Israel completed a fence running the length of the Sinai border, halting the flow of illegal migrants there nearly immediately.

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Migrants began entering Israel through what was then a porous Egyptian border in 2007.

The sudden shift reflects how nettlesome the issue of African migrants has become in Israel, and Netanyahu appeared hesitant to anger his core supporters, many of whom oppose letting large numbers of migrants in the country.

Holot, an open facility where inmates were free to leave during the day but had to return at night, was opened in 2013 with the aim of siphoning migrants away from the cities. Others who had submitted asylum requests before January 1 were released pending a decision.

UNHCR Representative in Canada, Jean-Nicolas Beuze, told CTV News that western countries "like Canada", would be among those bringing in these asylum-seekers. But Israel struggled with what to do with those already in the country, alternating between plans to deport them, and offering them menial jobs in hotels and local municipalities.

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Only a handful of asylum claims have been approved in recent years.

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