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Israel Follows Saudi Arabia, Planning Deportation of 500 African Migrants

As Ethiopians removed from Saudi Arabia continue filing back into the country, Israel is also planning to deport 500 Ethiopians, possibly as early as January 2014.

Approximately 60,000 migrants from African countries – particularly Eritrea and Sudan, which make up the lion’s share at some 90 percent of the total – have entered Israel in recent years through the Sinai Peninsula. This has led to fears that the Jewish character of the country of 7.8 million is being threatened, as stated by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a speech in May 2012.

To assuage those concerns, the country is embarking on a drive to remove the undocumented migrants, which it calls “infiltrators,” with incentives designed to encourage voluntary departures. These include $3,500 in compensation for each migrant, in addition to free plane tickets and health care.

For Ethiopians, deportation will occur  within a short period of time, according to the Ethiopian Embassy in Tel Aviv, Israel.

“The deportation will happen in the near future. That is a given,” said Hilawei Yosef, Ethiopian ambassador to Israel, speaking on the phone to Ethiopian Ambassador Dina Mufti, spokesperson to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Addis Ababa. “But, at least they are well-protected and safe, unlike those from Saudi Arabia,” he said.

The operation will probably begin as of January next year, according to the Embassy.

Israel’s government had informed the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA) of its decision months ago, said another official who requested anonymity. A delegation from the Middle East at the MoFA, led by Wubeshet Demesie, director general of the division, had planned to go to Tel Aviv to sort out the issue, but the Saudi Arabia case demanded more immediate attention, according to the source.

After the case of Saudi Arabia is settled, a four-person delegation, including Wubeshet, will go to Tel Aviv to negotiate with the Israeli government about the compensation, the official said. This will include demands to raise the compensation to $5,000.

The ministry has also written a letter to the International Organization for Migration, according to information from the MoFA.

More than 100,000 Ethiopians have returned from Saudi Arabia as of Dec. 6.

Unlike those who will be leaving Israel shortly, a large portion of those from the oil-rich kingdom returned to the country without their personal belongings; some of them even barefoot.

“We wish these measures weren’t to be taken, but at least they will not throw them out the way Saudi Arabia did,” said Dina.

The Israeli embassy in Addis Ababa, on the other hand, requested full cooperation from the Ethiopian government in the manner of returning the migrants, since they entered into the country using illegal means.

“We are talking about people who crossed the border without legal permission to do so,” said Leo Vinovezky, deputy head of mission at the Embassy. “They will be returned to their countries in full coordination with their governments.”

Currently, there are more than 130,000 people of Ethiopian origin in Israel, the majority of whom have Israeli citizenship given that they are Beta Israel.

Source: Addis Fortune

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