An unidentified African country has agreed to take in Eritrean
illegal immigrants living in Israel, if Israel gives them agricultural training first. according to Israeli court
Humanitarian agencies say many of the 60,000 African migrants who
have walked into Israel from Egypt should be considered for asylum.
Israel regards most of them as illegal job-seekers, and a national
debate on deporting them has stirred strong emotions in a Jewish state
founded by war refugees and immigrants.
At a Supreme Court hearing on Sunday on the legality of detaining
asylum-seekers who entered Israel surreptitiously, a government lawyer Said a deal to resettle “infiltrators from Eritrea” had been reached
with a country she did not identify.
Israeli government officials declined to comment, but local media
speculated that the statement was a tactic to forestall any court moves
to release migrants detained for long periods. An estimated 35,000 Eritreans are currently in Israel. Returning them
to their homeland, a reclusive state accused last year by the U.N.
human rights chief of torture and summary executions, is problematic
under international law. But moving them elsewhere could also raise legal issues. The U.N.
High Commissioner for Refugees says resettlement can only be considered
once refugee status has been granted, something Israel has not done,
although exceptions can be made. “There is an arrangement with one country, which will be an
end-destination and not a transit point,” the attorney said, according
to a transcript provided by the Justice Ministry on Monday. She told the court she could not reveal the name of the country because the hearing was open to the public. Israel’s Army Radio said the country was in East Africa. Other media
reported that Israel had offered it financial incentives to take the
migrants in. In all, more than 60,000 Africans, most of them men, have walked into
Israel in recent years seeking work or refuge. Some 2,000, most of them
caught at the Egyptian frontier, are being held in a detention center
in southern Israel. Pledging to stem the flow, Israel has responded by erecting a heavily
patrolled fence along the Egyptian border, pursued legal penalties
against Israelis who hire migrants without work permits, and launched
deportation drives, although these have been small-scale so far. “Compared with the more than 2,000 infiltrators who entered Israel
exactly a year ago and dispersed in various cities, only two crossed the
border last month, and they were arrested,” Prime Minister Benjamin
Netanyahu said on Monday, attributing the steep decline to construction
of the barrier. “Now we have to focus on repatriating the illegal infiltrators
already here, and we will fulfill this mission,” he said in a statement,
which made no mention of any resettlement arrangement.