Israel will offer tens of thousands of African infiltrators the choice of leaving over the next three months or being arrested, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said Wednesday.
Under the plan, some 40,000 infiltrators who entered Israel illegally, mainly Eritreans and Sudanese, will have until the end of March to leave.
Each will receive a plane ticket and $3,500 (2,900 euros) to aid in doing so. After March, this amount will decrease and those who continue to refuse to go will face arrest.
Holot, an open facility in Israel's desert south that can host 1,200 infiltrators who are allowed to leave to work during the day, is also set to be closed.
"Every country must maintain its borders, and protecting the borders from illegal infiltration is both a right and a basic duty of a sovereign state," Netanyahu said.
Israel tacitly recognizes that the Sudanese and Eritreans cannot be returned to their dangerous homelands, so it has signed deals with Rwanda and Uganda, which agree to accept departing infiltrators on condition they consent to the arrangement, activists say.
Infiltrators started coming in large numbers across the porous border between Israel and Egypt's Sinai Peninsula in 2007, when, Interior Ministry figures show, nearly 5,000 entered the country.
The government has since completed fencing the border and deploying electronic sensors. In 2016, no one made it across.
Over the years, those caught at the Egyptian frontier were detained at prisons in the Negev desert in southern Israel.
On release, they were given bus tickets to Tel Aviv, arriving at the central bus station on the south side of the city, with many of them settling in the poor, but historic neighborhood with a high percentage of senior citizens.
Israeli residents of southern Tel Aviv have long complained of their presence, the increased crime rate that spells out the danger they present to Israeli citizens, and the city and Supreme Court's preference for infiltrators over Israeli citizens.
During a visit in August, Netanyahu pledged to "return south Tel Aviv to the citizens of Israel," emphasizing that the Africans are "not refugees but illegal infiltrators."