Israel seals deal to send migrants back to Africa

By Shira Rubin, June 6, 2013
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An unnamed African country has agreed to absorb the majority of Eritrean asylum seekers and labour migrants living in Israel, a senior Israeli official announced on Sunday.

The country is in East Africa, according to Israel's Army Radio.

The migrants will purportedly be given agricultural training in Israel, although it is not clear whether they will be granted refugee status in the third country.

Over the past year, former Mossad agent Hagai Hadas has sought agreements for the transfer of the some 35,000 migrants to African countries including Ghana, South Sudan, Uganda and Kenya.

How can Israel ensure they do not end up where they came from?

News of the deal surfaced in a court hearing on the legality of Israel's anti-infiltration law, which allows administrative detention without trial for up to three years for migrants who have illegally crossed into the country from Egypt. Human-rights activists suspect the plan is merely an attempt by the state to evade a review of the controversial policy.

"I find it really hard to believe that Israel can make sure that refugees are transferred to a particular African state and not returned to their country of origin," said Tally Kritzman-Amir, an immigration lawyer at the Academic Centre of Law and Business in Tel Aviv.

More than 60,000 asylum seekers, unable to acquire legal status, have clustered in slums throughout Israel's poor neighbourhoods.

This has stoked a heated national debate on the country's moral responsibility for those fleeing repression and war.

A fence completed earlier this year along the Egyptian border has largely halted the influx of the African migrants, as well as the movement of militants from the Sinai Peninsula.

Last updated: 6:45pm, June 6 2013