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Israel drops plan to deport African migrants to Rwanda

Israel's initial proposal to deport thousands to African nations sparked protests and international condemnation

    African migrants stand outside the Holot detention centre in Israel's Negev desert (Photo: PA Images)
    African migrants stand outside the Holot detention centre in Israel's Negev desert (Photo: PA Images)

    Israel has ditched a controversial plan to force African asylum seekers to choose between deportation and a period of detention, in a deal to resettle thousands in Canada, Italy and Germany.

    Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli Prime Minister, announced today that the country had reached “unprecedented understandings” with the UN Refugee Agency over the migrants.

    In exchange for sending more than 16,000 refugees to western countries, Israel has indicated it will regularise the legal status of many of those remaining.

    Israel had initially proposed to deport many to other African nations, including Rwanda and Uganda. The controversial measure, announced last year, sparked protests and international condemnation.

    The new plan will be implemented over a five-year period.

    A spokesman for the Israeli government said: "These understandings will allow the removal of more migrants from Israel than in the previous plan, and under UN and the international community's auspices.”

    Mr Netanyahu later told a news conference that for each migrant resettled overseas, Israel will give "temporary residence" to a migrant in Israel.

    Avi Gabbay, the leader of the Zionist Union, the largest opposition grouping in the Israeli Knesset, congratulated the efforts of activists “who fought, campaigned and did not give up”.

    Michal Rozin, a member of Israel's parliament and a lead campaigner against the expulsions, said the agreement represented the "success of the Israelis who protested against the evil of deportation".

    But Naftali Bennett, the leader of the Jewish Home Party, criticised the government’s announcement, describing it as “a total surrender to the false campaign in the media”.

    Italy, Germany and Canada are yet to officially announce their involvement in the scheme.

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