Israel threatens to jail or deport African migrants

Israel tells illegal Africans to leave before April or face jail

Before Israel completed a barrier along its border with Egypt in 2013, about 60,000 African migrants - mostly from Sudan and Eritrea - crossed the desert frontier and settled in the Tel Aviv area.

The migrants will be given up to $3,500 if they leave Israel within the next 90 days and the country will begin jailing any who remain in April.

The vast majority came from Eritrea and Sudan and many said they fled war and persecution as well as economic hardship, but Israel treats them as economic migrants.

The move follows a new law passed previous year that imposed tough new restrictions on illegal migrants and ordered the shuttering of the Holot detention facility in southern Israel by mid-March.

Chen Bril Egri, Head of Campaigns for Refugees and Asylum Seekers at Amnesty International, said the decision "expresses shameful cold-heartedness by the descendants of refugees who have forgotten their past, and who show contempt for basic human rights".

Migrant aid worker Adi Drori-Avraham told AFP that at the moment there are exceptions for women, children, parents of children and victims of human trafficking, but that such exemptions are only temporary. Israel has not clearly said where the immigrants will go but tacitly recognizes that it is too unsafe to return the Sudanese and Eritreans to their homes.

"Two options only: voluntary deportation or sitting in prison", Israel's interior minister, Arye Deri, and the public security minister, Gilad Erdan said.

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"Every country must guard its borders", said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the opening of a special cabinet meeting to address the matter on Wednesday. "Jewish people know best what it is like to be a refugee, and it is the obligation of a Jewish state to accept people who are asking for asylum".

Haaretz, an Israeli newspaper reported in August a year ago that Israel's top court ruled that African asylum seekers can be deported to Rwanda and Uganda.

The final notice is not the first policy of its kind.

"Israel is sending refugees to an unsafe state and many of them to their deaths". Despite being fully fledged Israeli citizens they still suffer from institutionalised racism. They are forced to continue their lives as refugees.

Israel uses the term "infiltrators" to describe people who did not enter the country through an official border crossing.

They are also mistreated in the work environment as they are often hired for hard tasks and usually underpaid. If they don't leave in the next three months, they face potential imprisonment.

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