The United Nations High Commission on Refugees is in talks with Israel to allow some African asylum seekers facing deportation to stay permanently in exchange for the resettlement of a few to “safe” countries.
This move follows Israel’s decision to deport the African migrants in two months to African countries believed to be Uganda and Rwanda. Refugees who refuse to be deported were threatened with a prison sentence.
According to The Times of Israel, the UNHCR office is confident the talks will be fruitful and the agreement will be a viable solution for the approximately 38,000 African asylum seekers.
“Such an arrangement could be realized, though the necessary details need to be worked out. We would see such an arrangement as a win-win for the refugees as well as the State of Israel,” said Sharon Harel, the external relations officer at the UNHCR office in Israel.
The Commission did not disclose which countries it plans to resettle the African asylum seekers.
The United Nations refugee agency had earlier expressed concern that the asylum seekers have not found a durable solution to their plight and they may subsequently attempt moving within Africa or to Europe.
“As party to the 1951 Refugee Convention, Israel has legal obligations to protect refugees and other persons in need of international protection,” said UNHCR’s Assistant High Commissioner for Protection, Volker Türk.
Since 2009, only eight Eritreans and two Sudanese have been recognized as refugees in Israel. Another 200 Sudanese from Darfur were recently granted humanitarian status.
Currently, 27,500 Eritreans and 7,800 Sudanese are seeking asylum status to start a living in Israel.
Thousands of the asylum seekers protested last week in front of the Rwandan embassy against its suspected plan of receiving them.
Israel said in a letter last week that the migrants have 60 days to accept the offer to leave the country to an unnamed destination in Africa in exchange for $3,500 and a plane ticket. It added that migrants who refuse to leave by April 1 will be incarcerated indefinitely.
Human Rights Watch has condemned the planned unlawful asylum seeker detention and called on Israel to abandon the new policy aimed at thwarting the legitimate right of the migrants to seek protection.