Chris Baynes, The Independent
Israeli authorities have begun distributing deportation notices to thousands of African refugees and migrants, who have been threatened with jail if they do not leave the country.
In letters delivered on Sunday, the government told asylum-seekers they had 60 days to leave for an unnamed African country in exchange for $3,500 (£2,500) and a plane ticket.
Those who remain by 1 April face indefinite imprisonment under plans which have prompted outrage and protests in Israel.
About 60,000 migrants, nearly all from Eritrea and Sudan, crossed Israel’s border with Egypt before the government erected a fence along the desert frontier. Many were fleeing persecution and violence.
Roughly 20,000 have already been expelled, according to the Israeli government. But some have lived for years in Israel and many work in low-paying jobs that many Israelis shun. The country has granted asylum to fewer than one per cent of those who have applied and has a years-long backlog of applicants.
In the letter, Israel’s Population and Immigration Authority told asylum-seekers they would be sent to an unnamed country with a “stable government” that has “developed tremendously over the last decade and has absorbed thousands of returning residents as well as migrants from various African countries”.
The Israeli government has refused to publicly name the country but officials have indicated migrants would be sent to Rwanda.
Many of those ordered to leave have expressed fear of being sent to the East African nation and said they would rather be sent to prison.
Groups of pilots, doctors, writers, rabbis and Holocaust survivors have condemned the mass deportations and called on the government to halt the plan. They say the deportations are unethical and would damage Israel’s image as a refuge for persecuted Jews.
A group of Israeli rabbis launched an “Anne Frank-inspired” activist programme to protect African asylum-seekers facing forced expulsion.
But Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has called the migrants “illegal infiltrators” and claimed their presence was a threat to Israel’s social fabric and Jewish character. One government minister has referred to the migrants as “a cancer”.
“We have expelled about 20,000 and now the mission is to get the rest out,” Mr Netanyahu said.