The Israeli government will pay $3,500 grants to African refugees to encourage them to leave the country, it has said. The country’s prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the move was designed to “protect the Jewish and democratic character” of the Middle Eastern state. The country’s coalition cabinet voted unanimously last weekend to approve the plan, drawn up by the country’s new Interior Minister Gideon Sa’ar and supported by Mr Netanyahu.
“We are determined to remove the tens of thousands of infiltrators who are here, after we lowered to zero the number of work-seeking infiltrators who have entered Israel’s cities,” Mr Netanyahu said at the cabinet meeting, according to a government release. Israel already pays grants of $1,500 to migrants who agree to leave but the proposal would see the figure raised to $3,500. Other measures approved as part of a £73m package include the establishment of a migrant detention centre in the Negev desert. Extra funding will also be provided to police in south Tel Aviv where populations of African migrants live.
Migrants who do not take up the repatriation offer will be subject to detention in the new facility. Last year a report by Human Rights Watch said the repatriation was not as voluntary as its seemed and amounted to coercion. “Destroying people’s hope of finding protection by forcing them into a corner and then claiming they are voluntarily leaving Israel is transparently abusive,” said report author Gerry Simpson.
“Eritreans and Sudanese in Israel are left with the choice of living in fear of spending the rest of their days locked up in desert detention centres or of risking detention and abuse back home.” In 2012 the US government criticised Israel’s treatment of African asylum seekers on the basis that they were denied refugee status and basic healthcare. The state department’s annual report also criticised inflammatory language used by the Israeli government. Israel has an estimated number of around 50,000-60,000 African migrants living within its borders, around 0.6% of its 8 million population.