Israel closes doors to refugees as Netanyahu cancels resettlement deal

By Elton Gomes

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu cancelled a resettlement deal just hours after his office had consented to the agreement with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees due to criticism from his coalition partners on Monday. As per the deal, Israel would provide residency to roughly half of the 30,000 migrants who were living illegally in Isreal, in exchange for Western nations resettling the other half.

Why was the deal cancelled?

In a Facebook post, Netanyahu said he is “suspending the implementation of the agreement” and will “re-examine” it after meetings with other representatives.

The prime minister faced severe criticism over the agreement from right-wing factions and anti-migrant groups, including his own Likud party. The groups were of the opinion that the Israeli prime minister had ignored the views of residents from southern Tel Aviv, an area that has the majority of African migrants.

The Israeli prime minister claims he met the residents of southern Tel Aviv and had announced the cancellation of the deal at the start of the meeting. Netanyahu said in an interview with Israeli newspaper Haaretz,” after reevaluating the advantages and disadvantages [of the deal], I decided to cancel the deal.”

Some residents protested against the deportation of asylum seekers, stating that they were not invited to the meeting.

Also Read: Another political crisis as Benjamin Netanyahu faces bribery charges

Reactions from Israeli ministers and the UN

Former interior minister and a member of Netanyahu’s Likud party, Gideon Saar criticized the deal previously by stating that it would have an effect on Israel’s immigration policy. Israel’s Education Minister Naftali Bennett had earlier criticized Netanyahu and said it was the right move to cancel the deal.

William Spindler, a spokesman for the UN refugee agency, urged Netanyahu to reconsider his decision. Spindler told the AFP in an email, “we continue to believe in the need for a win-win agreement that can benefit Israel, the international community and people needing asylum and we hope that Israel will reconsider its decision soon.”

The migrants in Israel

Most African migrants in Isreal come from the war-torn nation of Sudan and Eritrea, which is a one-party state whose leaders have been committing crimes against humanity according to UN investigations. Earlier this year, Israel approved a plan for these asylum seeks, whereby they had an option to take $3,500 and get on a plane back to their home country to spend time in an Israeli prison indefinitely.

On March 24, 2018, in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square, over 20,000 protestors launched slogans and demonstrated against the Israeli government’s plans to deport migrants, with those who refused to go facing jail time.

Also Read: March of Return: Gaza protests culminate in violence and casualty

Israel, however, is looking to shun migrants, as it says that it is not their legal obligation to shelter them. Migrants are commonly referred to as “infiltrators” by Israeli officials. Netanyahu stated that the border fence constructed along the Israeli-Egypt border is keeping back a “flood” of illegal migrants from Africa. He further added that the migrants were worse than terrorists in the Sinai peninsula.

Although these asylum seekers are critical of Israel’s stringent refugee policies and threats of forced deportation, they appreciate Israel and their right to demonstrate for their freedom. However, with the asylum seekers present, several residents now feel less secure and comfortable in their neighbourhoods.

Netanyahu’s decision to sign the agreement had generated hope in the international community, amidst widespread anger about his bribery charges and the March of Return in Gaza on Saturday, which led to the death of several Palestinians.