Israel to free 207 African migrants

TEL AVIV: Israel will release 207 African migrants from prison following a supreme court ruling after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu controversially reversed a deal with the UN refugee agency on the detainees’ fate.
There are around 42,000 African migrants in Israel. Authorities transferred 207 of them from a nearby open detention facility in February after they refused to leave the country. Israel’s supreme court on April 10 gave the government until Sunday to finalise a deal it said it was working on to deport some of the migrants to another country.
Without a deal, the court said authorities must release those held at Saharonim prison.
“In light of the fact that the negotiations between Israel and a third country are still ongoing and due to a supreme court ruling, the migrants held in Saharonim prison will be freed today,” the immigration service said in a statement.
Uganda said on Friday it was “positively considering” a proposal from Israel to accept 500 of the mostly Eritrean and Sudanese migrants. Earlier this month, Netanyahu cancelled an agreement with the United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, aimed at avoiding forced deportations of thousands of migrants. The reversal, just hours after he announced the deal himself in a televised address, followed pressure from his right-wing base.
That left the government with its initial plan, announced in January, under which migrants who entered Israel illegally would face a choice between leaving voluntarily or facing indefinite imprisonment with eventual forced expulsion.
As the migrants could face danger or imprisonment, Israel had offered to relocate them to an unnamed African country. — AFP