Israel has offered to pay thousands of African migrants illegally residing in the country to leave, lest be imprisoned if caught in Isreal after the end of March.
The Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, stated this on Wednesday at a cabinet meeting on the payment programme in Jerusalem.
He said a barrier Israel completed in 2013 along its border with Egypt had effectively cut off a stream of “illegal infiltrators” from Africa after some 60,000 crossed the desert frontier.
Most of the migrants came from Eritrea and Sudan and many said they fled war and persecution as well as economic hardship, but Israel treats them as economic migrants.
The plan, launched this week, offers African migrants a $3,500 payment from the Israeli government and a free air ticket to return home or go to “third countries,’’ which rights groups identified as Rwanda and Uganda.
“We have expelled about 20,000 and now the mission is to get the rest out,” the Prime Minister said.
Netanyahu called the presence of migrants “a threat to Israel’s social fabric and Jewish character;” and one government minister has referred to them as “a cancer”.
He condemned the large presence of African migrants in Tel Aviv’s poorer neighbourhoods, where he said “veteran residents” – a reference to Israelis – no longer feel safe.
“So today, we are keeping our promise to restore calm, a sense of personal security and law and order to the residents of south Tel Aviv and those in many other neighbourhoods,” Netanyahu said.