Israel reaches deal with UN to resettle African migrants

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Israel reaches deal with UN to resettle African migrants

Canada is set to take in a number of African migrants from Israel, according to the United Nations refugee agency, but a late-in-the-day declaration from Israel's prime minister has put the fate of the deal in question.

A group of residents of southern Tel Aviv, where numerous migrants have settled, immediately denounced the new plan in a statement, calling it "a shame for the state of Israel".

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday that he would be suspending an already-signed agreement reached to resettle thousands of African refugees to Western countries.

"These understandings will allow the removal of more migrants from Israel than in the previous plan, and under United Nations and the worldwide community's auspices", a statement said.

"The agreement stipulates that for each migrant who leaves the country, we commit to give temporary residence status to another", Netanyahu himself said in a televised address.

A group of residents of southern Tel Aviv, where numerous migrants have settled, immediately denounced the new plan in a statement, calling it "a shame for the state of Israel".

Germany and Italy, however, said they were unaware of any such resettlement deal for African migrants from Israel.

At its highest point, there were some 65,000 illegal immigrants in Israel.

Some migrants lived for years in Israel and work in low-paying jobs that many Israelis shun. Critics at home and in the Jewish community overseas called that proposed response unethical and a stain on Israel's image as a refuge for Jewish migrants. But in 2013, Israel completed a fence running the length of the Sinai border, halting the flow of illegal migrants there nearly immediately.

The mass deportation was set to begin April 1, but Netanyahu said Monday the plan was called off when it became clear the intended country would not be able to handle absorbing the deported population.

The UN agreement replaced a controversial plan to forcibly remove male asylum seekers to a third country in Africa, reported to be Rwanda or Uganda, if they did not leave Israel voluntarily.

The Movement to Halt the Deportation of Asylum Seekers, a local advocacy group, said that the new plan marked an "unprecedented achievement" for the thousands of Israelis who had rallied in support of migrants over the past few months and that it offered Israel an opportunity to make amends and forge a more responsible policy for the asylum seekers remaining in the country. Cabinet Minister Naftali Bennett, leader of the nationalist Jewish Home party, said the deal turned Israel into a "paradise for infiltrators".

Beuze said the number of these migrants potentially coming to Canada on top of what the government has previously committed, has yet to be determined.

Earlier Monday, he said discussions were ongoing with countries that could resettle asylum seekers.

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