Israel Offers African Migrants $3500 To Leave, Or Jail

Israel on Wednesday said it would pay thousands of African migrants

living illegally in the country to leave, threatening them with jail

if they are caught after the end of March.


Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, in public made the remarks at a

cabinet meeting on the payment program in Jerusalem.


Netanyahu said a barrier Israel completed in 2013 along its border

with Egypt had effectively cut off a stream of “illegal infiltrators”

from Africa after some 60, 000 crossed the desert frontier.


The vast majority came from Eritrea and Sudan and many said they fled

war and persecution as well as economic hardship, but Israel treats

them as economic migrants.


The plan launched this week offers African migrants a 3, 500 dollars

payment from the Israeli government and a free air ticket to return

home or go to “third countries’’, which rights groups identified as

Rwanda and Uganda.


“We have expelled about 20,000 and now the mission is to get the rest

out,” Netanyahu said.


An immigration official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said

there are some 38, 000 migrants living illegally in Israel, and some

1, 420 are being held in two detention centres.



“Beyond the end of March, those who leave voluntarily will receive a

significantly smaller payment that will shrink even more with time,

and enforcement measures will begin,” the official said, referring to



Some have lived for years in Israel and work in low-paying jobs that

many Israelis shun.


Israel has granted asylum to less than one percent of those, who have

applied and has a years-long backlog of applicants.


Rights groups have accused Israel of being slow to process African

migrants’ asylum requests as a matter of policy and denying legitimate

claims to the status.


Netanyahu has called the migrants’ presence a threat to Israel’s

social fabric and Jewish character, and one government minister has

referred to them as “a cancer”.


Teklit Michael, a 29-asylum seeker from Eritrea living in Tel Aviv,

said in response to the Israeli plan that paying money to other

governments to take in Africans was akin to “human trafficking and



“We don’t know what is waiting for us (in Rwanda and Uganda),” he

said. “They prefer now to stay in prison (in Israel) instead.”


In his remarks, Netanyahu cited the large presence of African migrants

in Tel Aviv’s poorer neighbourhoods, where he said “veteran residents”

– a reference to Israelis – no longer feel safe.


“So today, we are keeping our promise to restore calm, a sense of

personal security and law and order to the residents of south Tel Aviv

and those in many other neighbourhoods,” he said.