A group of 150 Africans voluntarily flew back to their homes in south Sudan Monday night via an unnamed third country. None were from Darfur.
Nor was it the first such flight; over the past 18 months, several hundred Sudanese nationals have made the same decision and received repatriation assistance from Israel’s social services officials.
William Tall, representative to Israel of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, also said that none of the returnees were forced into the decision to leave Israel.
“We have met and interviewed every one of the returning Sudanese nationals to make sure that they weren’t coerced in any way,” Tall said.
“Everyone is leaving Israel willingly, and we are checking their security in Sudan. We have also received guarantees nothing bad will happen to them – everything has been coordinated with the United Nations and with governments in Africa."
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu had instructed “the relevant government offices” in October to search for countries that would be willing to absorb the illegal immigrants – for millions of dollars -- who infiltrated through Israel’s southern border with Egypt.
However, there were no takers; ultimately the illegal immigrants voluntarily agreed to simply return to their homeland. Each received a stipend of $400 to $500 to assist with resettlement costs. It is not clear where the money came from. Israel National News was unable to reach the Foreign Ministry spokesman for comment Monday night.
Two human rights organizations issued a joint statement criticizing the decision. The Hotline for Migrant Workers and the Association for Civil Rights in Israel said, “This is not the first time in human history that people returned to countries where they were in danger because the country in which they sought refuge shirked its responsibilities and made their lives miserable.”
Various estimates place the current number of African asylum seekers in Israel between 35,000 to more than 36,000, including at least 5,500 infiltrators from Sudan. According to the Immigration Authority, a record number of 1,940 illegal aliens and African asylum seekers entered Israel last month alone.
The prime minister has said the growing numbers constitute a demographic threat to the Jewish character of the country.
Israel has begun work on a barrier which sinks below ground to seal off part of the border with Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, where the infiltrators sneak into the country. The project, which will run along 140 kilometers (87 miles) of the 250 kilometer border, will include an electronic surveillance system and will cost approximately NIS 1,35 billion ($370 million). The project won’t be completed until at least the end of next year, according to the Defense Ministry.
By that time, if an estimate by Eyal Gabai, director-general of the Prime Minister’s Office is accurate, it is possible that up to another 20,000 African infiltrators may have joined the ranks of those already in the country.