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Netanyahu scraps African migrant transfer deal with West, hours after announcing it

Israeli prime minister's announcement comes in the face of pressure from right-wing coalition partners

    African asylum seekers and Israeli activists protest outside Benjamin Netanyahu's office in Jerusalem on Tuesday
    African asylum seekers and Israeli activists protest outside Benjamin Netanyahu's office in Jerusalem on Tuesday (Photo: Flash90)

    Benjamin Netanyahu has cancelled a deal with the UN’s refugee agency to resettle thousands of African asylum seekers after caving in to pressure from his right-wing coalition partners.

    The Israeli Prime Minister had announced on Monday that his government had reached “unprecedented understandings” with the UNHCR over the migrants.

    In exchange for sending more than 16,000 refugees to western countries, Israel indicated it would regularise the legal status of an equal number who chose to remain.

    But hours later Mr Netanyahu decided to suspend the deal, even though it had already been signed.

    NEWS FEATURE: Meeting the African migrants living – and waiting – in the Negev desert

    He announced his decision at the beginning of a closed meeting with residents of south Tel Aviv, Haaretz reported.

    Mr Netanyahu said today: “I listened closely to many comments about the agreement. After re-evaluating the advantages and disadvantages, I decided to cancel the deal.

    "Despite the growing legal and international limitation, we will continue to work with determination to exhaust all possibilities at our disposal to remove the infiltrators.”

    His coalition partner Naftali Bennett – the education minister and leader of the right-wing Jewish Home party – had earlier criticised the deal, calling it “a total surrender to the false campaign in the media”.

    Gideon Saar, a former Interior Minister and a member of Mr Netanyahu's Likud party, also criticized the deal, saying it would affect Israel's immigration policy.

    He said: “I call to cancel this whole deal. I hope the prime minister will declare that he's cancelled the agreement, as it sets a precarious precedent for our immigration policy, and the world must see what we decide.”

    Before it was cancelled, the plan would have seen thousands of African migrants resettled in Italy, Germany and Canada.

    An earlier proposal to deport them to Uganda and Rwanda was dropped earlier this year after it emerged that Israeli prisons lacked the capacity to incarcerate those who refuse to leave.

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