A plane carrying 123 illegal immigrants from South Sudan
departed from Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion International Airport early Monday morning en route to the new African country's capital Juba, but some 60,000 African migrants - most of whom cannot be deported – remain
Another four South Sudanese migrants boarded commercial flights back to their country because the charter flight, which departed at around 1:30 am, was full. Each adult received $1,300, while children were given $500 each.
"All those who boarded the flight back to Sudan did so voluntarily," Amnon Ben-Ami, the director of the Population and Immigration Authority told Ynet, adding that over the past week more than 500 South Sudanese have asked to return home "in the framework of this process."
However, aid groups claim the migrants' only other choice was to be detained and then expelled. The organizations said the migrants were not given the opportunity to apply for refugee status.
Minister Yishai with migrants at airport (Photo: Moti Kimchi)
Dozens of illegal migrants from African nations were detained nationwide over the past week after the Jerusalem Administrative Court granted the State's request to suspend the "collective protection"
status granted to south Sudanese migrants in Israel, effectively sanctioning the deportation of 1,500 migrants.
About 300 South Sudanese who were detained as part of the operation are being held in facilities across the country. Ben-Ami said they would soon be deported as well. The next flight carrying Sudanese migrants back to their country will leave next Monday, he said.
About 50,000 of the migrants who remain in Israel are from Sudan
and Eritrea. Israel cannot deport them due to various diplomatic obligations and because it has been a signatory of the 1951 International Refugee Convention since 1954.
Ben-Ami said the Immigration Authority will continue working to deport some 4,000 illegal African migrants from the Ivory Coast (2,000), South Sudan (1,500) and other African countries.
Interior Minister Eli Yishai, who initiated the deportation plan, met the migrants at the airport. "The big story here is Suan and Eritrea. I hope the legal obstacles that prevent the deportation of migrants from these countries will be removed," he said.
Rami Godovitch, a social activist who helps Africans seeking refugee status, said Yishai is well-aware that sending Eritreans and former Darfur residents back to their home countries would mean a "death sentence."
Gabriel Takala, a 31-year-old Eritrean asylum-seeker who illegally entered Israel some five years ago and currently lives in Ramat Gan, said he fears Yishai's deportation plan. "We left Eritrea due to severe political problems. Those who left will be killed or jailed for life if they are forced to return," he said.
"If we have no choice, we'll prefer to remain in prison in Israel rather than be sent back to Eritrea. We ask that Israel protect us."
Knesset Member Danny Danon (Likud), who heads the Knesset lobby which seeks to deal with the issue of illegal immigration, said he was discussing with officials in South Sudan the possibility that the new African country would absorb thousands of illegal migrants Israel wants to deport.
"This would change the situation in Israel,"
Takala does not believe in Danon's plan: "No other country will agree to accept us."