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Cash or jail: Israel gives ultimatum to African migrants

Migrants are being offered some cash and a plane ticket to sub-saharan Africa, which they will either accept or face jail time

Israel has issued notices to 20,000 African migrants, most of whom are from Eritrea and the Sudan, according to Reuters. Migrants are being offered $3,500 and a plane ticket to sub-saharan Africa, which they will either accept or face jail time.

The Supreme Court ruled back in August that these migrants can be held for up to 60 days. Benjamin Netanyahu’s government views them as “infiltrators” who seek to exploit Israel as their land of opportunity, rather than refugees from violence. Potential host countries are not detailed in the notices, but are described as “safe”.

But a contrary sentiment is brewing. Some rabbis and Nazi holocaust survivors are among those who are advocating for the migrants’ right to be treated as refugees from war and abuse. Some Israelis are offering to help by taking migrants into their homes.

The American Anti Defamation League is pushing for Israel to reconsider the deportation strategy, and refers to a Jewish “refugee heritage”.

The United Nations refugee agency has counseled Israel to take a different course of action, as many of those migrants who have recently departed to sub-saharan Africa ended up on the journey to Europe, often experiencing abuse, torture, or death on the journey.

Prior to erecting a border fence along the Israeli border with Egypt, which has since effectively ended migration from the region, Israel experienced an influx of approximately 64,000 African migrants, many which have since departed.

For the moment, women, children, families, and those with outstanding requests for asylum are being allowed to remain. However, with over 6,800 requests having so far been reviewed, only 11 of them have been approved, with another 8,000 or so more left to be processed.

The Israeli government is pledging to maintain contact with those who are deported in order to keep up with their overall welfare. Rwanda offered to accept only those migrants who depart Israel willingly.

Emmanuel Asfaha from Eritrea crossed into Israel in 2011 with his wife and baby son. His second child was born in Israel.

A narrow grocery store stockroom stacked with bags of flour leads to their two-room apartment in Tel Aviv, a poster of Jesus hanging on the cracked walls above his son’s bed. Asfaha is concerned Israel will eventually deport families too.

“I am worried about the situation,” he said while cooking Shiro, a traditional stew. “Tomorrow it will be for me also.”

A few kilometres away, in a hip, upscale part of Tel Aviv, Ben Yefet, a 39-year-old stockbroker, said he had signed up with Miklat Israel to house two or three migrants in his two-room apartment.

“As Israelis and Jews we are obligated. We have a moral compass, we just have to do it,” he said.

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