Israel frees detained migrants after deal with U.N. collapses


By Middle East Affairs

Israel released a small group of African migrants from detention on Wednesday after a deal to send them to Rwanda collapsed, Reuters reports.

Another 200 hundred are still at the Saharonim detention center in southern Israel and might be deported to Uganda, but the news agency said that would depend on whether an Israeli envoy that visited the country on Wednesday had managed to secure a deal for that. If not, they would likely be released, too, on Thursday.

There were 58 migrants released Wednesday, who went to Tel Aviv by bus, and Reuters said they were freed because the state couldn’t provide assurance of a safe haven for them abroad.

Israel houses about 30,000 African asylum seekers. Initially the intention was to deport them to Rwanda and Uganda, but a last-minute deal with the United Nations paved the way for Western nations such as Germany and Italy to absorb about half of the migrants, while the other half would become established residents of Israel.

Shortly after the announcement, Netanyahu’s right-wing supporters expressed deep criticism of the deal. Facing pressure, Netanyahu canceled the agreement.

Now the government is considering sending the asylum seekers to a different country in Africa than originally planned, which would have been Rwanda or Uganda. Another option would be to reopen the Holot detention facility.

Sources in the coalition told Haaretz that they’re also looking into promoting legislation that would allow the incarceration and expulsion of the asylum seekers, although it goes against a Supreme Court ruling.

African migrants get on a bus after being released from Saharonim Prison in the Negev desert, Israel April 4, 2018. REUTERS/Amir Cohen

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