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Israel to 'shut migrant centre and deport Africans'

Thousands of migrants have sought refuge in Israel [AFP]

Date of publication: 19 November, 2017

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Israel's cabinet voted to close a migrant detention centre, as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced an agreement to deport 40,000 Africans who entered the country illegally.

Israel will deport 40,000 Africans who entered the country illegally, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced, as Israel's cabinet voted to close a migrant detention centre on Sunday.

Ministers unanimously approved plans to shutter the Holot centre in southern Israel and gave migrants a three-month deadline to leave the country or face deportation, said the interior and public security ministries.

"The infiltrators will have the option to be imprisoned or leave the country," the public security ministry said in a statement.

Israeli official figures from 30 June show a total of 38,043 African migrants in the country.

They include 27,494 Eritreans and 7,869 Sudanese, and their presence in south Tel Aviv has raised discontent among Israelis.

A sharp shift to the right in Israeli politics has given rise to an increasingly vocal push to isolate African asylum seekers and ultimately return them to their homelands, which in the majority of cases are Darfur and Eritrea.

Both of which are riddled by instability, long running conflicts and political oppression.

Proponents of anti-assimilation have become more virulent in their attacks against African migrants and their political representatives have been emboldened by the hardline coalition forged by Netanyahu in recent years.

"Over recent years there has been a barrage of propaganda vilifying these people. It is beneficial for many politicians to have a punch bag and that isn't just the Palestinians anymore," independent documentary maker David Sheen said previously.

Nationalist anti-immigration protests regularly turn violent with random beatings of Africans and the ransacking of their properties or shops. 

Demonstrators have chanted slogans such as: "Stop talking, start expelling" and "Blacks out!", while other protesters have derided the "bleeding-heart leftists" working to help them.

Netanyahu noted that after building a fence on the Egyptian border and deporting some 20,000 African migrants through various deals, Israel has reached the third stage of its efforts - "accelerated removal".

"This removal is taking place thanks to an international agreement I reached that enables us to remove the 40,000 infiltrators remaining, remove them without their consent," he told ministers.

"This will enable us to close down Holot and allocate some of the large funds going there to inspectors and removing more people," said Netanyahu.

Holot, an open facility in the desert that can host 1,200 migrants who are allowed to leave to work during the day, would be closed three months from December 16, according to the decision.

A public security ministry spokesman said an extension to that deadline would be set if necessary.

Ahead of the vote, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan said Holot had become "a hotel for infiltrators at the tax-payers' expense that does not encourage their exit" and costs 240 million shekels ($68 million, 58 million euros) a year.

In a Twitter statement, Erdan however stressed the closure of Holot was conditioned on "us seeing that the policy of removing infiltrators to a third country was indeed taking place."

Neither Erdan nor Netanyahu gave details about the deal and the third country.

Israel tacitly recognises the Sudanese and Eritreans cannot be returned to their dangerous homelands, so it has signed deals with Rwanda and Uganda, which agree to accept departing migrants on condition they consent to the arrangement, according to activists.

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