By Abiodun Oluleye
About 40,000 African refugees, many apparently from Eritrea and Sudan could be expelled from Israel under a plan approved by the cabinet on Wednesday.
“The immigrants have a clear choice, they can cooperate with us and leave of their own free will, or we have to use other tools that the law puts at our disposal,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said.
Under the new plan, asylum applications will only be granted in exceptional situations.
Netanyahu had already hinted in November at a move to push out migrants and force them to go to a third country.
There have been media reports about a deal either with Rwanda or Uganda.
The Population and Immigration Authority has been calling since Monday for “infiltrators” from Sudan and Eritrea to voluntarily leave the country, offering a payment of about 3,500 dollars to those who leave by the end of March.
As part of the plan, Israel would also shut down the controversial Cholot internment camp, which lies in the Negev desert.
According to Netanyahu, about 60,000 Africans entered Israel until it completed a wall along its border with Egypt in 2013, while about 20,000 of those have already been deported.
The arrival of the immigrants and Israel’s subsequent attempts to remove them has prompted protests by those who do not want to go home.
Concern by human rights groups about the treatment of the migrants in Israel and soul searching amid a string of incidents that resulted in the death or injury of people either in or while trying to reach Israel.