Israel and UN Reach Deal to Deport African Migrants to West

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The Israeli government announced on Monday that it has reached a landmark agreement with the United Nations to scrap its contested plans to deport African asylum seekers and would resettle many of them in Western countries instead.

"Israel and the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees have reached unprecedented understandings for the departure of at least 16,250 Western nations", said Netanyahu's office in statement.

The sudden shift reflects how nettlesome the issue of African migrants has become in Israel, and Mr Netanyahu appeared hesitant to anger his core supporters, many of whom oppose letting large numbers of migrants in the country.

According to interior ministry figures, there are now some 42,000 African migrants in Israel, half of them children, women or men with families who are not facing immediate deportation.

Rwanda, and possibly Uganda, were believed to have been the destination countries, according to reports, which also said the migrants' rights have been violated in the third country.

Mr Netanyahu's office noted that the initial plans to send the migrants to third-country destinations had encountered legal constraints and political difficulties and that the government had to adopt a new approach as result.

Advocacy groups working on behalf of the migrants had challenged the deportation plans in Israel's high court, securing a temporary freeze on the plan on March 15.

Religious and conservative politicians have portrayed the presence of Muslim and Christian Africans as a threat to Israel's Jewish character.

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Israel will deport 16,000 refugees to West, while grant 16,000 temporary residency status.

Most arrived in Israel in the second half of the last decade, crossing from Egypt before the route was sealed.

Numerous migrants say they came to Israel to seek asylum after fleeing persecution, conflict, and in the case of Eritreans, forced, lifelong conscription to its army, but Israeli authorities regard them as economic migrants.

Numerous migrants have flocked in recent years to neighbourhoods in southern Tel Aviv, rapidly changing the historically working-class areas into what has become known as "Little Africa" and sparking tension with the local Jewish population. Others who had submitted asylum requests before January 1 were released pending a decision.

A man originally from Eritrea stands outside an Israeli immigration office, holding a document giving him 60 days to leave Israel or face imprisonment.

Israeli officials had said that no one they classify as a refugee or asylum-seeker would be deported, though the process of granting asylum has been criticised as extremely slow and biased against claims.

The optics of black asylum seekers accusing the country of racism has turned into a public relations liability for Israel, and groups of Israeli doctors, academics, poets, Holocaust survivors, rabbis and pilots had all appealed to halt the government's original deportation plan.