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Israelis petition Netanyahu to halt deportation of African migrants to Rwanda

Doctors, teachers and academics recall how doors were closed to Jews before the Second World War

    Migrants at the Holot migrant detention facility, which is due to be closed, in this picture from 2014
    Migrants at the Holot migrant detention facility, which is due to be closed, in this picture from 2014 Flash90

    Hundreds of Israeli professionals, including doctors, school principals and airline crews have signed open letters and petitions calling on their government to halt deportations of asylum seekers.

    In a letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, 530 psychologists wrote that the plan “will add the State of Israel to the cycle of harm done to the refugees.”

    The letter added: “A large proportion of asylum seekers have already gone through difficult experiences, including persecution in their countries of origin under repressive and authoritarian regimes.”

    A separate group of 470 academics wrote to Mr Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin, recalling how most countries shut their doors to Jewish refugees before the Second World War.

    “We must remember that we too were once persecuted and victimized,” they wrote.

    “We too were once aliens and we should happily embrace refugees who have fled their homeland in order to save their and their families’ lives.”

    One of the letters called on Shlomo Mor-Yosef, the director general of the Population and Immigration Authority, to halt the expulsions altogether.

    Tens of thousands of African migrants arrived in Israel until 2012, when a new border fence with Egypt cut off smuggling routes from Sinai.

    Mr Netanyahu has made their deportation a priority in recent months, with the policy popular with his voter base.

    He made two visits last year to the south Tel Aviv neighbourhoods where most of the migrants live, in a show of solidarity with working-class residents who complained about conditions since the migrants arrived.

    A controversial plan to offer $3,500 (£2,454) in cash to each of the estimated 35,000 African migrants in return for voluntarily leaving the country was approved by the cabinet last month.

    Those who take the deal would be sent to Rwanda, irrespective of whether it is their home country, while anyone who refuses will face an indefinite jail term.

    Rwanda will reportedly receive $5,000 (£3,500) for each migrant it accepts, although the country subsequently said it would never accept migrants deported against their will.

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