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Israel to send 16000 African migrants to Western countries

Israel to send 16000 African migrants to Western countries”

Thousands of the migrants concentrated in neighborhoods in south Tel Aviv, where ethnic food shops and phone card stalls line the streets, and the area has become known as "Little Africa".

At the same time the PMO announced a special committee, headed by former Kadima MK Avigdor Yitzhaki, to improve the quality of life in south Tel Aviv, where numerous asylum seekers live.

It said it would "facilitate the departure to third countries to be determined of some 16,000 Eritreans and Sudanese under various programmes, including sponsorship, resettlement, family reunion and labour migration schemes, while others will be receiving a suitable legal status in Israel".

Meir Ben-Shabbat, Netanyahu's national security adviser, said the plan would be carried out in three phases over five years.

A previous plan already underway for a mass deportation of some 20,000 migrants to Rwanda had led to legal challenges in Israel, drawn criticism overseas and triggered an emotional public debate among Israelis.

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A fence Israel has built over the past few years along its border with Egypt has all but stopped African migrants from entering the country illegally.

The optics of black asylum seekers accusing the country of racism has turned into a public relations liability for Israel, and groups of Israeli doctors, academics, poets, Holocaust survivors, rabbis and pilots had all appealed to halt the government's original deportation plan.

"It's a good agreement, very glad that we achieved it", Netanyahu said during a televised press conference earlier Monday. Both countries have denied having any deal in place with Israel.

Netanyahu said on social media that Rwanda had in the past few weeks folded to huge pressure and backed out of the deal it had made with Israel to accept expelled migrants, prompting him to seek the new arrangement with the UNHCR. "A committee will be formed in order to identify them and find agreed solutions", Ben-Shabbat said.

About 16,000 others will be given permanent residency in Israel, he said. He said that 6,000 migrants will depart within the next 18 months.

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In addition, as part of the agreement, a major effort will be put forth to more evenly distribute the asylum seeker population across Israel and assist with job placement and training for some of the asylum seekers who are to remain in the country.

The issue of the African asylum seekers has long roiled Israeli society.

"We are extremely happy for the refugees", said Sigal Rozen, of the Hotline for Refugees and Migrants.

Mark Hetfield, president of HIAS, a Jewish nonprofit in the US that protects refugees, praised the deal as "responsible" and "consistent with Jewish values". Israeli media said pressure by American Jewish leaders had influenced Israeli decision-making.

More than 1,400 asylum seekers are being held in two detention centres, including the notorious Holot facility in the Negev desert which has continued to operate even after an Israeli Supreme Court ordered it to close over rights concerns in 2014. He called for the plan to be brought to the Cabinet for a vote.

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