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Israel seeks a new UN refugee deal

Eritrean migrants protest for their rights in Tel Aviv, Israel on 11 July 2011 [Physicians for Human Rights/Flickr]
Eritrean migrants protest for their rights in Tel Aviv, Israel on 11 July 2011 [Physicians for Human Rights/Flickr]

Israel is seeking to negotiate a new deal with the United Nations regarding the status and deportation of African asylum seekers residing in the country, according to a report by Israel’s Channel 10 News aired yesterday.

Following a series of events over the past few months, the asylum seekers have been left to an uncertain future. The refugees, who number around 40,000 and mostly consist of Eritreans and Sudanese escaping their repressive governments, were first threatened with forced deportation earlier this year to a “third country” in Africa, most likely Rwanda.

After a wave of international outrage, Israel’s Supreme Court suspended the deportation plan and the government started negotiating a deal with the UN, which resulted in a plan to temporarily settle around 19,000 refugees in Israel with the rest of the applicants being moved to Western countries such as Germany, Italy and Canada.

Read: Is Israel exchanging arms for refugees with Rwanda?

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accepted the UN’s proposal on 2 April only to reject and cancel it hours later due to pressure from far-right groups and protests from members of his own Likud party. “I’ve decided to suspend implementation of this accord and to rethink the terms of the accord,” Netanyahu announced in a Facebook post that evening, and also stated that “we will continue to act work with determination to exhaust all possibilities at our disposal to remove the infiltrators,” during a meeting with Israeli residents of south Tel Aviv.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the UN’s refugee agency, issued a letter calling Netanyahu’s sudden decision to reject the “win-win agreement” a “disappointment”, and urged the Israeli government to “consider the matter further”.

Since then, there have been protests and international criticism against any further plans to deport the refugees, pushing Netanyahu to now seek a new deal with the UN that is more in line with Israel’s terms.

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