Hours after Israel signed a deal with the U.N. refugee agency to relocate 16,250 of about 37,000 African migrants to Western countries, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu suspended the new agreement following political pressure.
Netanyahu posted a message on his Facebook page saying he was putting its implementation on hold until further review. His decision is believed to be as a result of pressure from his party against the deal which will allow the rest of the African migrants to stay in Israel.
“I am attentive to you, especially to the residents of south Tel Aviv. In the meantime, I am suspending the agreement’s implementation and after I meet with the representatives I will bring it forward for further review,” he said ahead of a planned meeting with local representatives.
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The agreement signed on Monday is expected to save the 27,500 Eritreans and 7,800 Sudanese from expulsion to unnamed African countries or subsequent imprisonment if they fail to leave.
Israel had earlier described the migrants as “infiltrators” and said the country had signed international agreements to move the migrants “without their consent” to the recipient countries.
The Public Security Ministry had said in a statement that “the infiltrators will have the option to be imprisoned or leave the country.”
These sentiments stoked outrage and unsuccessful legal battles against the plan by Israeli human rights advocates. Later in March, the Israeli Supreme Court suspended the forced deportation move after months of protests by the migrants and Israel’s left-wing parties.