Israel abandons plan to forcibly deport African migrants

The Israeli government said on Tuesday it was abandoning a plan to forcibly deport African migrants who had entered the country illegally.

Canada, Italy, Germany were named as possible destination countries

A boy takes part in a protest against the Israeli government's plan to deport African migrants, in Tel Aviv, in March. The Israeli government announced Tuesday it was abandoning a plan to forcibly deport African migrants who had entered the country illegally. (Corinna Kern/Reuters)

The Israeli government said on Tuesday it was abandoning a plan to forcibly deport African migrants who had entered the country illegally.

The government had been working for months on an arrangement to expel thousands of mostly Eritrean and Sudanese men who crossed into Israel through Egypt's Sinai desert.

"At this stage, the possibility of carrying out an unwilling deportation to a third country is not on the agenda," the government wrote in a written response to the Supreme Court.
 
The migrants, it said, will again be able to renew residency permits every 60 days, as they were before the deportation push.

The migrants and rights groups say they are seeking asylum and are fleeing war and persecution. The government says they are job seekers and that it has every right to protect its borders. 

Around 4,000 migrants have left Israel for Rwanda and Uganda since 2013 under a voluntary program, but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has come under pressure from his right-wing voter base to expel thousands more. 

Netanyahu earlier this month announced an agreement with the UN's refugee agency UNHCR to relocate thousands of African migrants to Western countries "like Canada, Italy and Germany," only to put the plan on hold hours later until it could be reviewed further.

Canada had not made any formal commitment to accept some of those deportees but Jean-Nicolas Beuze, the UNHCR representative in Ottawa, said it was "being discussed."

After leaving the UN-backed relocation plan, Israel shifted efforts toward finalizing an arrangement to send the migrants against their will to Uganda.

A number of migrant rights groups petitioned the Supreme Court to block any such policy.