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Israel closes African migrant facility, prepares for mass expulsion Open in fullscreen

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Israel closes African migrant facility, prepares for mass expulsion

African migrants next to the Holot detention centre [Getty]

Date of publication: 15 March, 2018

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The closure of the Holot facility is part of a controversial plan to expel thousands of African migrants.
Israel has closed the desert Holot migrant detention centre as part of a controversial plan to expel thousands of African migrants from the country, AFP reported.

Immigration authority spokeswoman Sabine Haddad said that Holot closed on Wednesday afternoon, ahead of a midnight deadline.

In December, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu announced a plan to give migrants two options - leave Israel voluntarily or be detained and eventually expelled.

Since then some Holot inmates have been transferred to the nearby Saharonim prison.

Others who had submitted asylum requests before 1 January were released pending a decision.

Haddad said that 300 had been freed after agreeing to leave the Jewish state.

Those set free were barred from living or working in seven cities with high migrant populations, including Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

There are currently some 42,000 African migrants living in Israel, half of whom are not at risk of immediate deportation.

Holot was opened in 2013 to siphon migrants away from the cities. Inmates were free to leave during the day but forced to return at night.

While these migrants could face jail or phyiscal harm in their homelands, Israel has offered to relocate them to a third unnamed African country, which aid workers say is Rwanda or Uganda. 

African migrants began entering Israel in 2007 through Egypt's then-porous border with the Gaza strip. The border has since been sealed, cutting off new crossings.

The UN as well as rights groups and activists have criticised Israel's deportation plan. In January, more than 750 began a hunger strike to protest the deportation plan. 

Israeli officials say that no one they classify as a refugee or asylum seeker will be deported, though obtaining asylum is an arduous process and biased against claims. 

Only a handful of asylum claims have been approved in recent years.

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