Illegal African immigrants
Illegal African immigrantsIsrael news photo: Flash 90

A Jerusalem judge on Thursday authorized a decision made last month to deport citizens of the African country of Ivory Coast back to their homeland. The decision affirms the instructions of the Interior Ministry, and sets the date for their repatriation to May 1. The Ministry had sought to force them to leave by February 1, but petitions by the refugees and several groups working on their behalf forced the issue into the courts.

The 249 refugees had sought to remain, on the grounds that the three months that had been allotted to them to leave after the Interior Ministry's original repatriation orders were issued did not give them enough time to leave “in a respectable and organized manner,” after having remained in Israel for many years. In response, the Ministry said that the refugees had entered Israel illegally and illicitly.

“Israel is a sovereign country, and it is not the prerogative of individuals to decide when to come and go, but the state's," the court decided.

While the refugees may have originally entered Israel in order to escape violence in their homeland, the politicial situation in the country was much improved, the court said, allowing them to return home to a politically secure environment. “The state's position is not at odds with the position of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, which said that refugees from that region could now return home safely.”

Regarding their request for more time to pack, the court said that he could grant that, because it could take many years for individuals to “wrap up” their affairs here, especially if they had children in the Israeli school system.