Israeli immigration authorities yesterday arrested dozens of people in an operation to repatriate illegal African migrants, mainly targeting individuals from South Sudan.
An estimated 1,500 refugees from South Sudan are among the approximately 60,000 Africans who have entered Israel illegally through the Sinai Peninsula in recent years. Israel extended protection to the migrants from war-torn Sudan for a time, but ended the program after South Sudan became an independent nation last year. The deportations had been delayed by court petitions filed on behalf of relief organisations, and pending a government review of conditions in the young African nation. The Foreign Ministry produced a report last week concluding that there was no international obligation preventing Israel returning individuals to South Sudan, as long as individual claims for asylum were investigated.
Following this report, a Jerusalem court upheld Israel’s plan to deport individuals from South Sudan, saying the petitioners had not proved that deportees would face life-threatening danger. Interior Minister Eli Yishai said that the migrants would be able to request interviews to determine individual eligibility for asylum and would be given a week to get organised and register for departure grants of about $1,240. The Population, Immigration and Borders Authority (PIBA) began an operation to round up illegal immigrants on Sunday, and have so far arrested 140 people. Of those arrested, 105 are South Sudanese nationals and the remainder are from Nigeria, the Ivory Coast and Ghana.
Speaking with Israel Radio Tuesday morning, a representative of the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) in Israel, Sharon Harel, said that there is nothing stopping Israel from deporting South Sudanese nationals back to their new state as long as individuals are given the opportunity to make asylum claims.
Hundreds of individuals from various African countries are entering Israel illegally across the porous Israeli-Egyptian border each week, creating a major social challenge. This has been felt most acutely in the South Tel Aviv area, where many of the immigrants have ended up. Locals have been angered by the authorities’ failure to address the issue, and recent demonstrations against the influx of illegal migrants turned violent.