The Israeli government intends to tell tens of thousands of African migrants and refugees to leave the country or face arrest.
Thirty-eight thousand mainly Eritreans and Sudanese who entered Israel illegally will be given a plane ticket and $3,500 until the end of March to leave, AFP reported Wednesday.
After March, payments will decrease. People who still refuse to leave will be arrested from April, the BBC reported.
“Every country must maintain its borders, and protecting the borders from illegal infiltration is both a right and a basic duty of a sovereign state,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Wednesday.
Rwanda and Uganda have agreed to accept those who cannot return to conflict-ridden or repressed areas in Sudan and Eritrea if they agree to the plan, according to activists.
Israel’s treatment of African refugees has come under attack from local human rights groups, who say a country founded by Jewish refugees persecuted during World War II should be more understanding of the asylum seekers’ plight.
The Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported in October that Netanyahu signed a deal with Rwandan President Paul Kagame at the U.N. in September to deport African migrants from Israel to Rwanda. The alleged agreement drew a sharp rebuke from the country’s human rights groups.
Netanyahu said that Africans who have arrived in recent years “posed a real threat to the future of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.”
Since the Eritreans and Sudanese are not Jewish, they are not citizens and are denied access to free health care. Their children, many of whom were born in Israel, are not granted Israeli passports and must attend separate preschools. Last May, Israel required that 20% of asylum seekers’ salaries be deposited into a fund that would be released to them only if they relocate.
The asylum seekers, most escaping genocide in Sudan or repression in Eritrea, first arrived to Israel in 2006 after crossing Egypt’s Sinai Desert. The influx largely stopped when Israel completed building a high-tech fence along its 150-mile border with Egypt in 2013.