Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Monday he was putting on hold an agreement with the U.N. refugee agency to relocate thousands of African migrants to Western countries.
Hours after announcing the deal Netanyahu posted a message on his Facebook page saying he was putting it on hold until further review.
Under the agreement some 16,250 migrants would have been resettled in Western nations, including Canada, Italy and Germany, Netanyahu announced earlier Monday. The same number will be given residency in Israel, he said.
But soon after the announcement, officials at the German Interior Ministry and Italian Foreign Ministry said they were unaware of any plans to resettle African migrants in their countries.
Jean-Nicolas Beuze of the UNHCR in Ottawa told CBC News that Canada has not made any formal commitment but things are "being discussed."
Israel is home to roughly 35,000 African migrants, most of them from Eritrea, which has one of the world’s worst human rights records, or war-torn Sudan. The migrants say they are asylum-seekers fleeing danger and persecution, while Israeli leaders have claimed they are merely job seekers.
Netanyahu’s right-wing government rejects claims by the Africans that they are refugees, describing them as “infiltrators” and economic migrants.
The migrants also have become a political issue, with religious and conservative politicians portraying the presence of Muslim and Christian Africans as a threat to Israel's Jewish character.
A group of residents of southern Tel Aviv, where many of the migrants have settled, immediately denounced the new plan in a statement, calling it "a shame for the state of Israel".
Netanyahu said he would meet on Tuesday with residents of southern Tel Aviv.