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African Migrants in Limbo After Israel Zigzags on Deportation

African migrants and Israeli activists demonstrate against the Israeli government's plan to deport African migrants, in Jerusalem, April 4, 2018.

About 40,000 Africans in Israel are facing an uncertain future as Israel resumes efforts to deport them.

African migrants have been on a roller coaster ride since last week, when the Israeli government did an about-face.

First, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that Israel had reached a compromise with the U.N. Refugee Agency. Under the deal, some 16,000 Africans would be sent to Western countries, while more than 20,000 would be allowed to remain in Israel.

The migrants were elated, but not for long. Netanyahu abruptly cancelled the agreement the next day, after his right-wing coalition partners demanded that all the Africans be deported. The government rejects claims the Africans are refugees, describing them as economic migrants and “infiltrators.”

Most of the migrants arrived in Israel from war-torn Eritrea and Sudan during the past decade.

Teklit Michael, a 29-year-old asylum seeker from Eritrea, says he does not know where he can work legally, he does not have a permanent place to live and he fears being deported or thrown in jail.

Some Israelis blame the migrants for rising crime and poverty in South Tel Aviv and accuse them of threatening the Jewish character of the state.

So the government is trying to revive a plan to send them to a third country in Africa, after Uganda backed out of a deal to take them in because it could not guarantee their safety.

Israeli human rights lawyer Avigdor Feldman says the government’s policy is legally and morally unacceptable.

He says sending people to African countries where their lives would be in danger is a violation of international law. He adds that Israel has an ethical obligation to offer the Africans asylum, because Jews were refugees during the Holocaust.