More than 700 asylum seekers left Israel
under the "voluntary emigration" program in January, said Interior Minister Gideon Sa'ar on Wednesday during a visit to the Holot detention center.
Human rights organizations criticize the government program claiming it is not "voluntary emigration" when the only other alternative to staying in Israel is incarceration.
The January figure of 773 asylum seekers who exited the country is substantially higher than the overall numbers from the fourth quarter of 2013. The Population and Immigration Authority had increased the grant given to those willing to leave from $1,500 to $3,500 per person.
The temporary order authorizing the grant is valid until the end of March. In December, 325 asylum seekers left Israel under the program compared to only 63 in November.
According to the figures published by the Population and Immigration Authority, 2,612 asylum seekers took part in the incentivized deportation program
"The clear trend is the dramatic growth in the number of 'infiltrators' who leave Israel," said Interior Minister Sa'ar, "This is a result of our clear policy and the integrated efforts undertaken – the new 'infiltrator' bill, the construction of the open detention center, and the grant increase for 'voluntary emigrants'."
He added: "We will continue to work towards the goals we set: encouraging the voluntary deportation of 'infiltrators' from Israel and a reduction in the number of 'infiltrators' in the cities."
Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein approved a new directive for arresting asylum seekers
involved in criminal cases. The directive allows incarcerating asylum seekers based solely on suspicion also requires an additional hearing for asylum seekers suspected of criminal activity and for convicted asylum seekers who are on the verge of being released.
The Center for Refugees and Immigrants responded to the rise in emigrants, saying: "The interior minister is boasting about a trend that is proof of inadequacy for a democratic country that is a signatory of the refugee convention.
The 'voluntary' emigration is a result of the heavy psychological pressure put on asylum seekers who are jailed, lonely, and desperate which includes threats and lies."
Aviel Magnezi contributed to this report