Netanyahu defends deal with UN to deport African asylum seekers to West

The Israeli prime minister said in a press conference that the agreement reached between Israel and the UN to deport African asylum seekers was the best possible solution, despite the fact that about half of them will remain in Israel.
Netanyahu, Deri Photo credit: Hillel Meir, TPS

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed on Monday afternoon the controversial agreement reached between Israel and the UN to deport some African asylum seekers to Western countries.

In a joint press conference with Interior Minister Aryeh Deri, Netanyahu defended the deal, saying it is the best possible solution at this time. "I realize the expectation was for us to deport all of them, but once we knew that wasn't an option, we did the best thing we could do," he said.

Under the deal, more than 16,000 asylum seekers will be deported within 18 months to Western countries such as Germany and Canada, while thousands of others will be granted temporary residency status.

Though the original intention was to deport about 40,000 asylum seekers to Rwanda, that plan, according to Netanyahu, was foiled due to pressure from anti-deportation activists who urged Rwanda to reject it. He added that the existing agreement is "even better" because it "enabled us to deport more people."

Netanyahu added that the UN Refugee Agency initially asked that Israel keep four asylum seekers for each deported one, but the ratio was changed to 1:1 after intense negotiations.

African asylum seekers and human rights activists protest deportation in front of the Rwandan Embassy Photo credit: Tomer Neuberg, Flash 90

Deri promised that the asylum seekers who will remain in Israel will be moved from south Tel Aviv and housed in various parts of the country. He called on organizations and individuals that opposed the original plan to volunteer to take some of them in.

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