Israel reaches landmark deal with United Nations to resettle African migrants

People take part in a protest against the Israeli government's plan to deport African migrants in Tel Aviv Israel

People take part in a protest against the Israeli government's plan to deport African migrants in Tel Aviv Israel

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said on Monday he was suspending a new agreement with the United Nations refugee agency to relocate thousands of African migrants, as right-wing pressure mounted on him to scrap the deal.

The deal lifts the threat of a forced expulsion to unnamed African destinations, widely believed to be Rwanda and Uganda, with whom Israel had reached a secret agreement.

Israel considers the vast majority of the almost 40,000 migrants to be job seekers and has said it has no legal obligation to keep them.

Critics at home and in the Jewish community overseas called that proposed response unethical and a stain on Israel's image as a refuge for Jewish migrants.

Monim Haroon, a 28-year-old university student in Jerusalem who fled Darfur five years ago, said he was relieved to hear that a just solution had been found and he would be able to stay in Israeli without worry.

In addition, as part of the deal, the government will focus on providing occupational guidance, vocational training and other assistance to the migrants to help them integrate into Israel.

They had initially been given a deadline of April 1, but Israel's supreme court suspended the plan on March 15 while it continued to examine it.

Netanyahu named Germany, Italy and Canada as examples of countries that would accept the migrants, though German and Italian officials said they had no knowledge of any such agreement.

The Africans, almost all from dictatorial Eritrea and war-torn Sudan, say they fled for their lives and faced renewed danger if they returned.

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"The joint commitment is that "You take out 16,250 and we will leave 16,250 as temporary residents". Asylum seekers previously deported to Uganda and Rwanda have told the Times of Israel they faced serious danger and even imprisonment after arriving in Africa without proper documents.

The plan, initially approved by the Israeli cabinet in November, has drawn concerns from the United Nations refugee agency, which called it incoherent and unsafe.

Netanyahu said on social media that Rwanda had in the past few weeks folded to enormous pressure and backed out of the deal it had made with Israel to accept expelled migrants, prompting him to seek the new arrangement with the UNHCR.

Tel Aviv describes as "infiltrators" the African migrants who entered Israel from neighboring Egypt.

Migrants began entering Israel through what was then a porous Egyptian border in 2007.

The optics of black asylum seekers accusing the country of racism has turned into a public relations liability for Israel, and groups of Israeli doctors, academics, poets, Holocaust survivors, rabbis and pilots had all appealed to halt the government's original deportation plan.

According to interior ministry figures, there are now some 42,000 African migrants in Israel, half of them children, women or men with families who are not facing immediate deportation. Israel has granted asylum to fewer than one percent of those who have applied and has a years-long backlog of applicants.

The deal announced by Netanyahu's office appeared to end the possibility that many would be forcibly deported.

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